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Should you buy or should you rent your clothing?

You need to wear an item of clothing at least seven times on average to justify buying it.

Rental wardrobe services promise to provide more clothing options, clean up wasted wardrobe space and fight fast fashion – all without putting a large designer-shaped hole in your wallet. But are they really better for your bank account? To find out, we compared the cost of renting versus buying 93 items of clothing and accessories to reveal when you should rent and when you should buy.

To determine whether clothing rental services are more cost-effective than buying clothes outright, we calculated and compared the cost per wear for both rented and purchased items. We then averaged the cost per wear across four categories: corporate workwear, weekend wear, special-event dresses and luxury handbags.

Cost per wear was calculated by dividing the cost of an item by the number of times you wear it. For instance, if you purchase a dress for $300 and wear it 5 times, the cost per wear would be $60. If you only wear it twice, the cost per wear would be a lot higher at $150.

Given you might wear some items more than others, we assumed a number of wears for each item in the category. For instance, in the special-events category, we assumed a black tie ball gown would only be worn once a year, while a cocktail dress would be worn at least twice a year. The research also assumed a period of a year but lots of items would be worn across multiple years, which means buying could be an even better option long term.

Should I rent it or buy it?

Workwear – buy it

It’s around 57% cheaper to own your workwear than rent it. If you use a rental service, each individual item will cost you an average of $18.31 each time you wear it, compared to just $7.87 if you buy it. You’ll save the most money buying items like tops and dresses (where renting is between 67-69% more expensive than owning), whereas owning jackets or blazers is only 29% cheaper.

Assumptions: For workwear items, we assumed you would wear a top once a week, bottoms twice a week, dresses once a fortnight, and blazers or jackets twice a week.

Cost per wear to rent: $18.31
Cost per wear to purchase: $7.87
It’s 57% more expensive to rent workwear


Weekend wear – buy it

While you don’t get quite as much wear out of your weekend gear, it’s still better value to own these items rather than rent them. Our research reveals it’s just over 69% cheaper to own rather than rent weekend clothes. Cost per wear was $23 for rentals, compared to just $7 to own the same items.

Assumptions: We assumed you might wear these items on the weekend as well as in the evenings during the workweek. We assumed you would wear tops, bottoms and jackets/blazers once a weekend or during the week and dresses once every second week.

Cost per wear to rent:$22.92
Cost per wear to purchase: $7.11
It’s 69% more expensive to rent casual weekend wear


Special events – rent it

While it’s more cost-effective to buy your wardrobe for corporate and weekend wear, it’s better value to rent special-occasion clothes. It’s over 500% cheaper to rent your dress for a special occasion than buy it!

Assumptions: For special-event items, we assumed you would wear a black tie gown once a year and a cocktail dress twice a year.

Cost per wear to rent: $87.29
Cost per wear to purchase: $580.83
It’s 565% cheaper to rent for a special event


Handbags – take your pick

There’s not a whole lot of difference in the cost per wear between renting and buying. In fact, buying a handbag is just 8% cheaper than renting based on cost per wear over one year. This means you could rent a different handbag every month for a year, and it would be around the same cost per wear as purchasing just one bag.

However, as you might expect, the longer you own a handbag, the lower the cost per wear. If you own a handbag for two years, the cost per wear drops from $7.41 to $3.70 – half the cost per wear to rent. So if you’re the type who likes more variety in their wardrobe, you might consider making the switch to renting. But if you’re more inclined to buy one bag and love it for years to come, you’re probably better off just going ahead and buying it.

Assumptions: For luxury handbags, we assumed you would wear a handbag 80% of the time. For rentals, this was roughly 24 days of the month or 288 days of the year.

Cost per wear to rent: $8.09
Cost per wear to purchase: $7.41
It’s 8% more expensive to rent a luxury handbag

How many times should you wear an item before it is better value to own?

Shoppers should wear their clothes at least seven times on average to see the value of owning, according to our analysis. Of course, this will vary from category to category – for workwear that magic number is just 4 wears, while for bags it’s 11. Both of which seem more than reasonable for the average shopper. If we exclude special events and handbags, the magic number is just four wears. That means if you wear your workwear or weekend outfit at least once a week for a month, you’re better off shelling out the money to own it rather than rent it.

The only category you might not see the value is with special events. To get value out of owning a special occasion dress – whether it’s cocktail or black tie – you’ll need to wear it at least seven times. When viewed separately, the number of wears is slightly higher for black tie gowns, which retail for $775 and cost $100 to rent on average, meaning it’s only economic to buy if you wear it 8 times. For a cocktail dress, which retails for $388 and cost $75 to rent on average, it’s only worth buying if you wear it at least 6 times.

Are subscriptions the solution for shopaholics?

If you’re a shopaholic, you might gawk at the thought of wearing the same thing all year long. In the above analysis, we assumed shoppers would wear the items they already have in their closet and get the most possible wear out of an item. To account for the people who might not like to shop like this, we looked at a rental service that offers a subscription service for multiple items at a bundle price (prices usually range from $100-$150 per month).

If you rent 3 items a month at $99, you would spend $594 over 6 months and have access to 18 items. If you were to purchase the same amount of items over the same period of time, you would spend roughly $4,575. That’s using the average retail price for each item in the workwear category, and assuming you bought a variety of items – say six dresses, six tops and six bottoms. That’s a difference of just under $4,000 between renting and buying the same items!

Even if you were to rent for the whole year, spending roughly $1,188, you’d still be forking out a lot less than if you were buying. So, if you’re the type of person who has to be on trend and couldn’t bear wearing the same thing twice to an event, renting could be a cost-effective option for you.

Methodology

Limitations of the research
Whether renting your wardrobe is more cost-effective than buying is dependent on things like the amount of disposable income you have, how frequently you’re currently shopping for new clothes and how much wear you get out of your wardrobe. This analysis is based on the average cost per wear for renting versus buying, but ultimately, this will vary from person to person.

Data collection
We sourced price data for 24 items across workwear, weekend, and special events (72 items) and 21 items for the luxury handbags category, amounting to 93 items in total. We used four different Canadian providers in the research: Reheart, The Fitzroy, Bag Borrow Steal, and Dresst.

Cost per wear
To find the average cost per wear, we used the following formula:

Average cost / number of wears = cost per wear

Given people might wear items at different frequencies within the same category, we assigned different number of wears for different items within the category. We assigned the same amount of wears for renting and buying. We’ve broken this down below:

Corporate workwear
Blazer/jacket – Twice a week
Bottoms (pants, skirts, shorts) – Twice a week
Dress/Jumpsuit/playsuit – Once a fortnight
Top – Once a week

Weekend
Blazer/jacket – Once a week
Bottoms (pants, skirts, shorts) – Once a week
Dress/Jumpsuit/playsuit – Once a fortnight
Top – Once a week

Weekend
Black tie – Once a year
Cocktail – Twice a year

Accessories
Luxury handbags – 80% of the time (24 days out of the month or 288 days out of the year)

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