Most of us, at one time or another, have seen a photo of a celebrity with an “it” bag, even if just in tabloids at the supermarket check-out. Most of the time they are over-sized totes, logo prominently displayed, on the arm of an actress or pop star. (Sometimes I wonder if the tinier celebrities could, in fact, fit inside their own handbag.)
And as ridiculous as it might seem, you can bet that if a pop star is carrying a bag, the masses are sure to want it, too.
The problem is the price sticker. Most people can't afford a $2,000 bag. Besides, usually the Hollywood elite, who can afford these bags, receive them as gifts (think product placement).
Riches for rent
I'm a bit late to this party, but I recently learned that one can rent designer bags, sunglasses, and jewelry. Yep, companies like Avelle, Bling Yourself, and Wear Today, Gone Tomorrow will rent merchandise by the likes of Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chloé, Herve Leger, and more. For a monthly fee, you can carry the “it” bag.
One site, for example, will rent a vintage Birkin bag for $600 per week. The cost to buy a vintage Birkin is about $17,000 (I'll give you a moment to stop choking…mmkay, better now?). A Coach bag that retails for $350 can be rented for about $30 a week, or $20 per week if you keep it for a month. And so on. You also have the option to buy anything you rent and can't bear to return, and there's insurance available if you're worried about a cosmo spilling on your rented Gucci.
The arguments for renting
According to the companies, renting allows people to enjoy items they can't afford to buy. Also, if someone decides they need a change, they can send the item back and choose something else.
Some members say that the monthly membership is actually less than what they spend on bags and jewelry in a given year, and that they wind up with less Stuff, since the items go back into circulation for others to borrow.
My arguments against
Full disclosure? I think it's nuts. Let's take that Coach bag, for example. It costs $350 retail, or it can be rented for $20 per week. In about 4-1/2 months, the amount spent renting the bag could be saved to purchase it.
No, it can't be returned on a whim. No, it can't be exchanged at will. But it is more cost-effective to purchase one or two quality handbags and own them indefinitely. If you continued to rent bags at $20 per week, in one year the total amount of fees would come to $1,040.
More disclosure? I don't necessarily have a problem with $350 handbags. If that sounds like an insane amount of money to pay and/or you couldn't care less about fashion, that's good news for your pocketbook. Do what works for you and spend your money on what matters to you. If, however, you do love a little fashion in your life and you believe in quality over quantity, forget bag rentals and abide by these guidelines:
- Choose a handbag in line with your discretionary income. There are nice things at most price levels.
- Wait for a sale. Salespeople are always happy to put you on their mailing list, which will alert you to store sales and special events.
- Check out online discount retailers like Bluefly.
- For in-store deals, try T.J. Maxx, if there's one nearby. I am always surprised by the quality brands they carry—at a fraction of the cost in the boutique stores. Be sure to check out your item carefully for marks and scratches, since the merchandise isn't handled with kid gloves.
- Pay for it in cash (or put it on a credit card that you pay in full at the end of each month).
- Purchase something classic. If it's trendy, you probably won't love it by next season.
- Baby the heck out of it. Get it professionally cleaned if you aren't sure how to do it yourself.
- Store it carefully. Fill the bag with tissue to hold the shape, and place it in a plastic bag when not in use.
I wasn't able to find much about company profits, but since these rental companies continue to grow and add new products for rent (clothing, jewelry, golf clubs), I assume they're doing well. But it's not for me.
If I'm being dismissive and overly critical, feel free to comment and tell me so! Have you ever rented a luxury item through a monthly membership fee? If not, would you try out a service like this?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.