Men’s clothing rental in Canada: the barriers to borrowed looks

A few years ago, when my brother got married and I was serving as Best Man, I knew I’d have to rent a tuxedo. Despite getting my fair share of invites, it was my first clothing rental experience since walking down the aisle myself more than a decade ago.

And OMG, was it bad.

My wife put the effort into researching what I wanted and searching for the best price. This lead to a journey that took us to a nondescript industrial park in the middle of nowhere, with my three kids in tow. The shop was deserted, but the process of getting sized, filling out the paper (yes, paper) order form and getting cashed out took at least half an hour. And of course, I was warned of the steep penalty if I was late returning the garment exactly on time, despite the fact it was a long weekend.

This might shed some light on the questions raised in a recent New York Times article about how Rent The Runway, Nully and other clothing rental services are looking at expanding into the men’s category and whether or not they will be well-received.

“Why don’t men rent? Are they fearful that borrowed clothing carries the unsanitary residue of other men? Do they dread the logistical planning required to return a pair of cuff links? Or is it just that their renting options are so few and little known that they didn’t know they could?” the Times asked. (The answer is “All of the above.”)

After surveying a dozen of “stylish” men, however, there was more. “Their stated values — individuality, ownership and longevity — were at odds with the ever-rotating closet pushed by the rental market.”

I picture a guy who is not ready to commit the time and effort to meticulously shop but wants an opportunity to experiment.

These are all no doubt valid points, but bear in mind the clothing rental market is probably aimed at a slightly different kind of guy than those interviewed. I picture a guy who is not ready to commit the time and effort to meticulously shop but wants an opportunity to experiment.

If there wasn’t a market for that, we wouldn’t have seen the rise of subscription services like Trunk Club or Frank & Oak. These kinds of services typically give you a reasonable amount of time to make up your mind about purchasing, but provide a steady stream of options to your door. Clothing rental, theoretically, just adds more convenience in terms of being able to send stuff back and keep your closet more manageable.

The convenience factor is already evolving through startups like The Lobby, which allow people to pick and choose clothes with personalized shopping while they’re at the office. At the time it launched, I was told The Lobby would be moving into menwear as of early 2019. I’ll check back to confirm this, but you can imagine the concept might be even more popular if clothing rental were among the options.

Not only would I consider a clothing rental service as easy to use as Uber or Airbnb, but if I liked what I rented a lot, I’d probably eventually buy it. Give it time, but this may be the gateway drug to boosting menswear purchases the industry do desperately wants.

Photo by Mariya Georgieva on Unsplash

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