Formal Wear: Rent or Own?

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There are occasions in life when the right clothing is crucial. While both men and women need special clothes for special occasions, there’s no law that says you have to own those clothes outright. But when it comes to renting, I believe the sexes have it backwards.

To start following my logic, take a look at this recent news story I shot at a couple of local clothing stores.

Men should be buyers

As I explained in the above news story, men often rent their tuxedos. According to clothing retailer Jos. A. Bank (it just went into the rental business) tuxedo rentals are an approximately $1.2 billion business in the United States. And rental’s not cheap: Andy Rizzi, the Syms clothing store guy I interviewed, told me he had called around to prepare for his interview and found that the local cost of a tuxedo rental was $85 – $100. And as you just saw, he sells a new tuxedo for $99.

Granted, if you do buy a tuxedo, you’ll need more than the pants and jacket. You’ll need alterations (not included at Syms), a special shirt, a bow tie, perhaps a cummerbund and probably studs as well. Add it all up and that $99 tux will be closer to $150 – $175. Still, if you’re going to attend more than two formal affairs during your lifetime, men might be better off owning a tuxedo rather than renting one. Especially if you consider that you might find one for even less – much less – by buying it used from a place like a local rental shop, Craig’s List or eBay.

And cost isn’t the only factor that should tilt men toward owning. Tuxedo styles have changed little over decades – a Tuxedo worn to Warren Harding’s inauguration ball would have looked perfectly fine at Barack Obama’s.

One last note to those men who justify a rental because they plan their lives specifically to avoid any event requiring a tux: there’s always Halloween. And you’ve got to wear something to your own funeral: Why not go out in style?

Now let’s consider the opposite set of circumstances by considering the opposite sex.

Women should be renters

Wedding dresses, while likely the most expensive dress some women will ever wear, are the epitome of something worn only once, which makes them ideal for renting.

But not many women agree with that logic. According to economic forecasting firm IbisWorld, bridal gown revenue is expected to be $2.51 billion in 2010, with only about $43 million – 1.7% – coming from bridal gown rental.

One can understand the logic. After all, a wedding dress could someday be worn by the bride’s daughter or become a family keepsake.

But those arguments don’t apply to standard women’s formal wear. In fact, the shop owner I interviewed, Ms. Meagher, started her clothing store by soliciting used formal wear from her circle of friends. She explained that women don’t often want to wear the same gown to more than one occasion, especially the annual kind where the same crowd will be in attendance. In addition, she told me that styles change over time, and so does a woman’s body and sense of style.

Result? Women have dresses in their closet – often costly and little-used – that they’re unable or unwilling to wear again.

If those facts don’t cry “rental” I don’t know what does. Especially since the Internet has given rise to stores that offer designer dress rental for a fraction of the cost of buying new. Here’s a sampling:

If you’d like to learn more about the process, here are two articles I read that you might find useful:

Am I wrong?

With the possible exception of caring for infants, there’s little I know less about than women’s clothing, so maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe women should be buying formal wear and men are right to rent. But I think I’ve mounted a pretty good argument that the sexes have it backwards.

What do you think?

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  • Paula

    The one drawback I can see to purchasing formal wear for men is that (as you pointed out for women) bodies change over time. There is no way on earth my husband could wear the outfit today that he rented for our wedding, nor could have after about 5 years had elapsed. Men gain and lose weight, too! But for those lucky enough to have a stable weight–yes, this seems like a smart way to go.