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Have you ever needed a dress for a special occasion and you didn’t think you’d ever wear it again?

I experienced this when I was very pregnant with my second child. It was a month before my due date, and I was invited to black tie affair. I knew no one with an appropriate maternity dress I could borrow. I was saved when I learned about a woman who had a home business renting out maternity clothes, primarily fancy dresses. When I looked for her with my third pregnancy she was out of business.

Fast forward twenty-four years. With the help of the Internet, a company has taken a very similar business idea and turned it into what seems to be a successful business called Rent the Runway. Their website boils the process down into four steps: Find it, rent it, wear it, return it. That simple.

Search their extensive inventory of dresses and you find a smorgasbord. There are short dresses and evening gowns, strapless and long-sleeved, size 2 and size 22. You can even order them in short, regular, or long, depending on your height and how tall a heel you like to wear.

And they have a runway! They ask their customers to post pictures of themselves wearing the dresses on the company website. Some even include information like height, weight or body shape, size ordered, etc. While browsing the dresses, I could put in my height, weight, and age, and they’d match me with similar women so I could see their pictures in the dress and read about their experiences wearing the dress. I love that. But not as much as I love, love, love that you can rent two sizes for the price of one. This way, you double the likelihood you’ll have a dress to wear. (I did notice some women saying they rented two different dresses to be on the safe side.)

When you’re ready to rent, you can do so for four or eight days. This gives you enough time to order a day ahead of the event or take it on a trip with you. I’m particularly fond of this. My maternity-dress businesswoman charged by the day, which meant it got costly if you were traveling with the dress. I saw a lot of runway pictures with the ocean in the background. I imagine formal night on cruise ships brings Rent a Runway a fair amount of business.

But wait. There’s more! You can choose from their line of accessories, which includes jewelry, Spanx, and fashion tape to prevent those wardrobe malfunctions we read about in the paper the day after some awards show.

And when it’s time to return? Slip the dress into the prepaid envelope and mail it back. No postage, no dry cleaning, no hassle.

The only complaint I have in what I’ve read and seen on the website is many of their dresses are sleeveless. They rent a few neutral-colored wraps, but I wish they had dresses with jackets for us women with bat wings and malfunctioning internal thermostats.

If anyone has used Rent a Runway, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Image of model walking the runway

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