As we begin to rethink our fashion habits, Jenessa Williams finds out whether rental shopping can really satisfy our insatiable need for new
With a cost-of-living crisis and climate awareness sitting heavily at the forefront of our minds, many of us are having to make stark choices about what we consume. Fashion is one of them. As of 2021, UK households spent approximately 57.3 billion British pounds on clothing, significantly contributing to the very real effects of climate change that can be felt around the world.
Even the fastest of fashion retailers are taking note; this summer, BooHoo announced that they will be charging a returns fee to try and help customers reflect on overshopping habits. Meanwhile, Love Island teamed up with eBay as their official partner for 2022’s series, eschewing their usual tie-ins.
"Even the fastest of fashion retailers are taking note"
However, there will still be times where a new outfit feels like a justifiable treat: to attend a wedding, to suit the requirements of a job interview, for that much-needed confidence boost on a date. For those who love to shop, weaning oneself completely out of retail seems a little like a punishment, taking away yet another source of joy during already-fraught times.
Enter The Devout. With their slogan "don’t buy it, borrow it", they stock numerous items from desirable, quality brands, helping you to browse more consciously.
What is rental fashion?
The set-up is simple. Rent three, five or ten items and swap every month, with prices starting from £39 a month for a three-item box. In the case of any accidents, do not fear—spills and light damages (think broken zips and small stains) are accounted for in the pricing, as is laundry. If you fall in love, there are options to keep certain items longer, or if you’re not in the market for anything new, your subscription can be easily paused or cancelled.
At the end of each cycle, you’ll receive an email reminding you to choose your next box. With a three-item return, items can be returned at a local drop-off point, whilst bigger parcels will be collected when the team make their next delivery. Think of it a kind of clothing library, where items are rotated in and out of your life instead of accumulating dust.
The rental process
In the interest of transparency, Reader’s Digest were invited to try the service for free, but the selection process was still the same. Browsing the website, we could see a range of on-trend items from the likes of Free People, AllSaints, Ghost, Topshop, Fred Perry and lots more independent designers besides. With men’s and women’s items, you can mix and match a box, so there’s lots to consider.
Our chosen package arrives within two days in compostable packaging that doesn’t feel excessive or unduly fussy. Cleaned with the latest technology for minimal eco impact, it would be an overstatement to say that the clothes smell especially nice, but they are pleasingly neutral, good for sensitive skin or allergies. In some cases, when an item is new in stock, it will arrive you still with tags, which some users will find to be a comfort.
For our first box, we made three selections. The first was an & Other Stories jumper; their knitwear has been prized for years as an Autumn-Winter staple, but at £95, they’re a reasonable investment for a high-street budget. Trying this on and testing it out, I was able to feel the quality on my skin without the pressurised rush of the changing rooms, and to see how hard it could genuinely work within my wardrobe. I loved how it looked with an old pair of cinnamon-brown cords, but also liked it with skirts and over dresses as a layering piece. A winner! Now that I’ve been able to live with the item for a month, I’d be much more inclined to make an &Other Stories purchase, knowing that it would hold its own in my pared-down wardrobe.
Next up was a Whistles denim jumpsuit (RRP £139.99). I am quite partial to dungarees, and these were an instant hit; pleasingly sturdy, comfortable, and a great transitional staple piece that won’t go in and out with the tides of trend. If you fall in love with a piece, The Devout also allow you to purchase it from them at 25 per cent off the RRP—certainly beats rifling through the internet to try and find your size.
"I was able to see how hard [the clothing pieces] could genuinely work within my wardrobe"
Lastly, was a gingham seersucker dress from Ganni (RRP £205). Ganni is a brand that I’ve seen all over Instagram, and with a big party coming up, I was hopeful that it might give me the requisite cool-girl points without having to invest in an item that I knew I likely wouldn’t wear often. However, this just didn’t work on me at all; the shape was all wrong on me, and actually, for such a high-end brand, I was a little disappointed in the feel of the fabric. Though I could have discovered this by ordering from Ganni directly or going instore, it felt good not to have to shop with several individual retailers, all with varying delivery times and sometimes quite sizeable return fees. While I don’t think there was ever any hope for me and this particular cut, The Devout do allow you to order several sizes of the same item so you don’t end up with pre-event disappointment, stock permitting.
For a relatively small business, it is tough to find fault with what the Devout are trying to do. Allowing users to embrace the thrill of shopping without hoarding, the £39 subscription fee might feel like indulgence for clothes you don’t even get to keep, but when you consider that a recent survey revealed that British women have an estimated 588 million unworn items sitting unloved in their closet, it’s a useful way to interrupt the cycle of thoughtless consumption. For me, the opportunity to really live with items and wear them before committing was incredibly helpful as I think about what I will genuinely get proper use out of.
There were a couple of small teething snags. The search function onsite tells you what The Devout have available, but not necessarily what they have in your size, which can make for a frustrating search. Browsing mid-August (and in peak wedding and event season), the hunt for a dress in one of the UK’s most common sizes of 12-16 quickly became quite limited, with the most covetable items clearly snapped up. Still, formal wear isn’t everything; with a good range of knitwear, officewear and even gym kit, you can try something new or simply pause a subscription until there is something you are interested in.
"The opportunity to really live with items and wear them before committing is incredibly helpful"
As shoppers become more and more cash aware, sites like this are sure to boom. It starts with The Devout, but fashionistas can also use sites like ByRotation to loan out their own formal or special event clothes, making themselves some handy cash. Whether it’s facilitating that one-off event or just fulfilling that craving for something new, rental feels like a strong addition to the market, and one that can hopefully keep fashion much more cyclical. A win-win during what is set to be a tough Autumn/Winter!
Find out more about The Devout here
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