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Renting is the new buying

When I’m out in the wild talking to strangers and the “so Ali, what do you do?” question comes up, my answer is often followed by "huh... Wow, so do people really rent dresses?". I even get asked that question a lot in the shop - the funny thing is that it’s most often asked by older men, who are very likely to have rented a suit or two in their time.

I’m always happy to tell them that yes, people really do rent dresses - for weddings, parties, corporate events - anything that requires you to change out of your usual everyday uniform and put on something a little bit special.

My customers are usually people who have realised that there is no point buying a new dress every time they go out. They know (usually from experience) that if they buy a new dress, no matter how much they love it and can’t wait to wear it again… they just won’t. Because the next time they get an opportunity to get dressed up, they will want to wear something new.

In the world of sustainable fashion, “new” has become a dirty word. Why buy new clothes when you can wear an outfit you already have? Why are we producing so many new clothes when the world just doesn’t need them? Don’t worry, I believe these questions are completely valid. The fashion industry’s obsession with the “new” will not only kill the planet but exploit millions of people in the process - but more on that another day.

Let’s look at “new” from a new perspective (see what I did there?). Most people really do like “new” things. We love seeing a new movie, reading a new book, eating at a new restaurant. WE LOVE WEARING NEW CLOTHES. There, I said it.

The problem we have comes from thinking that “new” should mean recently created, or unused. Yes, it’s exciting to open a new jar of Vegemite when it’s all smooth on top with no knife marks, butter smears or crumbs in it (no? Just me?) but when it comes to most of the fun stuff we enjoy in life, “new” only needs to mean new to you. Watching a classic movie you’ve never seen. Discovering an author you like and reading their earlier work. Going to a restaurant that everyone talks about, but you haven’t had the chance to go before now.

There's a reason we get so much more fulfilment out of spending money on experiences than on products. That thrill of enjoying something new comes from simply experiencing something different. When it comes to clothes, it comes from seeing yourself in a style you haven’t worn before, or a colour you wouldn’t normally consider. I try to make borrowing from Bell Street feel more like an experience rather than just choosing a product.

I love seeing the little transformation that happens in the shop every day when people step out of the fitting room and get a really look at themselves in the mirror. That little “oooh!” of surprise at seeing themselves in something new. The best part is when they come back to return their rental and tell me all about how much fun the dress was to dance in, how many compliments they received, and how they talked everyone's ear off about how it's actually VINTAGE and they just RENTED it from this really cute shop in Marrickville!

If you’re shopping for clothes to own, you might be a bit hesitant to buy something so different to your usual style. You worry about whether it will go with your other clothes, whether you will ever actually wear it - at least, I hope you think about these things. Now, one approach to this whole fashion problem is obviously to buy one great quality dress you really love and wear it to everything. That’s what the sustainable fashion warriors would do, right? That feels like what you “should” do. But it’s not what you have to do.

Renting a dress means you’re only choosing a dress for one specific event. You don’t need to agonise over where or when you’ll ever wear it again. It allows you to really have fun with it - almost like putting on a costume for a night. Like becoming someone new for a night. And you get to do it every time you go out, with zero guilt. Doesn't that sound fun?