Featured in: News  |  December 17, 2019

Fashion by the Boxful

Subscription services let you stay stylish for less money.

By Brittany L. Anas

After Ashley Baker had her first baby, her clothing size was in flux—she was in the process of losing postpartum pounds.

So when the 35-year-old clinical psychologist from Cumming, Georgia, wanted some new threads, she turned to clothing subscription services.

Firms such as Rent the Runway Unlimited and Armoire allow members to rent designer and name-brand clothing, swapping items out whenever they’d like to create a revolving closet of on-trend styles.

Clothing Express

Call it the rental revolution: Many Millennials are drawn to subscription services, renting clothes, handbags and accessories that are delivered to their doorstep instead of going to brick-and-mortar stores. A close cousin to the fashion services are beauty subscription boxes, which let members try out new brands and products on a regular basis before committing to full-price purchases.

While Baker’s entry into the realm of subscription services may have been for practical reasons, she has now found that rentals allow her to have fun with her style—tea-length dresses for work, for instance—and lending pops of color and patterns to her outfits with Tory Burch purses.

“These services allow you to try out different looks that might not necessarily be ‘you,’” Baker says. “You get to experiment with prints and bright colors and trends.”

Subscription fashion and beauty services let you try out the latest styles without paying a lot of money.

The subscription model has been gaining lots of momentum among women who want to spend less money shopping, yet feel like they always have a new dress to wear or new beauty product to test out. (Far fewer services are available for men, but there are a few. For example, the Mr. & Ms. Collection starts at $59 per month to rent three items of clothing.)

In addition to platforms that let members choose styles from dozens of designers, stores like Loft ($65 a month) and New York and Company ($50 a month) have recently launched their own versions of subscription services in an attempt to reach young professionals.

URBN—the parent company of Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters—has garnered buzz with its subscription model Nuuly, which is taking a hybrid approach by offering apparel from its brands but also partnering with denim brands, like Levi’s and Citizens of Humanity, and other contemporary labels, like Ronny Kobo and Gal Meets Glam, besides offering rare vintage finds.

Variations on the rental model are curated subscriptions, which send members a certain number of items each month that are for keeps.

Subscription boxes are a boon for women who live in areas where high-fashion shopping options are limited.

Higher-education administrator and part-time yoga instructor Clarissa Thompson, 32, pays $79 a month for a Yoga Club subscription that gets her three pieces of apparel each month.

When she signed up, Thompson took a style quiz; she likes brands like Onzie, Free People and Threads for Thought, and prefers solid-colored pieces in jewel tones. Each month, her box has been curated for her style, but she can make exchanges if she’s not in love with what’s been sent to her.

“Since I live in a super-small town and our options for purchasing good-quality activewear in a store are extremely limited, I love using a subscription service,” Thompson says. “They get my style and sizing right, and I always feel like I have something new to wear.”

Trend Drivers

Why have subscriptions become all the rage?

For some, it’s green guilt.

Textile waste has increased by 811% since 1960, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a majority of discarded clothing ends up in landfills. A separate 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Circular Fibres Initiative reported that the average time a garment is worn before it is donated or tossed has decreased by 36% compared to 15 years ago—a trend that’s likely being driven by fast fashion and cheaply made clothes.

That’s why Rachel Ericson, 29, of Los Angeles, started subscribing to Rent The Runway Unlimited, which starts at $159 per month for four items at a time.

Fashion subscriptions aren’t just stylish, they’re also eco-friendly: Discarded clothing takes up a lot of landfill space.

“The cycle of new season to discount to bargain stores is constant,” says Ericson, the editor of Denim Blog. “As someone who is conscious about this waste, I thought renting was a much better way to limit the amount that I was contributing.” Plus, she’s still able to stay on top of fashion developments in a city where trends can change in the middle of a laundry cycle.

Makeup by Mail

Not only do subscriptions let you test-run fashion brands, it’s also a fun way to switch up your beauty routine.

Curious about vegan beauty? Want to try aromatherapy? Why is K-beauty so buzzy? There are subscription boxes galore to help you find out.

JoahBox, for example, starts at $35.95 per month, and contains five to seven full-sized products that are new on the Korean beauty market. (K-beauty, for the uninitiated, has whimsical packaging and innovative products, and often is made with ingredients not seen in US products.)

“We’re obsessed with finding the best Korean skincare brands and sharing their awesome products with our customers around the world,” says Zineb Souilmi, co-founder of JoahBox. “We discovered there are tons of brands to choose from, but that these were not all easily accessible to individuals outside of Korea.”

Boxes have included collagen derived from mushrooms to give skin a glow, glitter eyeshadow and a body balm designed to firm and lift.

Three Services to Try


Rent The Runway Unlimited
Price: Starts at $159 per month for four items at a time
How it works: Members have access to clothes, handbags and accessories from dozens of designers, including big names like Jason Wu, Oscar de la Renta and Derek Lam, to up-and-comers, like Tanya Taylor and Autumn Adeigbo
What’s to love: Membership includes insurance, so you don’t need to sweat if you spill coffee on your denim or mistakenly pop a button


Medusa’s Makeup Beauty Box
Price: $16.95 per month
How it works: Each box comes with four full-sized vegan, cruelty-free products that could include anything from lipstick to liquid eyeliner to the occasional skincare product
What’s to love: Not big into makeup? There’s also a skincare subscription with sulfate-free, cruelty-free products


Bombay and Cedar
Price: Starts at $28.45 per month
How it works: This aromatherapy, beauty and wellness box features vegan and cruelty-free products, including essential oils, diffusers, books, skincare products and snacks; it comes with five to seven items each month
What’s to love: Most products are organic

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