Kate Wills reveals her secret for getting five-star fashion on a shoestring
Sipping sundowners by the pool in Ibiza in a £640 Beulah silk maxi dress, with a £1,000 Olympia Le-Tan handbag nestled by my cocktail, I look like a multi-millionaire.
That evening, my partner and I book a babysitter and head to a posh hotel for dinner. I wear an elegant £355 Rixo dress, with buttons all down the back. Instead of feeling like a scruffy interloper, as I normally do in a five-star, I feel like I completely fit in. We have an amazing dinner with particularly great service. Was it the dress? Who knows.
The next day, decked out in a Jacquemus shirt dress (£500), I splash out more than £800 on chartering a speedboat for the afternoon, something I have never even dreamed of doing before.
We all want to become a new person on holiday, a fantasy version of ourselves, wafting around an infinity pool in immaculate white linen. And on this trip, I finally did it. How? I packed a dream wardrobe of designer pieces — and the clothes changed me. I felt more liberated and extravagant.
In the rental market: Kate in an Alexis dress (£11 a day, RRP £395). She spoke about how dressing in luxe gowns made her feel ‘like a trust funder’
Dressing like a character from the hit TV show Succession makes me feel like I am one, except, perhaps, for the fact I flinch every time my two-year-old daughter comes near me with her dripping red ice lolly.
Because my outfit might be worth a fortune, but it’s only rented. And so is the rest of my holiday wardrobe.
I never thought I’d be the kind of person who hired designer outfits to take on holiday (and not just because, as the mother of a toddler, wearing anything that’s not washable is out of the question).
But I knew I needed an super-glam outfit to wear to my friend’s black-tie wedding in Ibiza — the kind of wedding where High Street just wouldn’t cut it — and couldn’t afford to shell out for one when the trip itself had already pushed me into my overdraft.
A friend suggested I try renting a dress instead and, out of curiosity, I signed up for a few of the big rental companies. I downloaded apps for By Rotation and Hurr (which recently teamed up with Selfridges to offer an in-person rental service) and browsed the website of My Wardrobe HQ (which has partnered with Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Harrods).
I was surprised at how affordable it was (prices start at £4 a day) and how slick and easy to use the sites were.
Vibrant: De La Vali gown (£61 for eight days, RRP £475). Kate called the experience a ‘great way to experiment with my style’ on holiday
A couple of days later I was twirling in front of my bedroom mirror in a show-stopping, canary-yellow floor-length De La Vali gown (£61 for eight days, versus £475 to buy it). I looked — and felt — amazing.
I knew my trusty ‘weddings bag’ — a silver Whistles clutch — wouldn’t do, so I decided to hire that hot pink Olympia Le-Tan book bag (£19 to rent, RRP £1,090). It’s an instantly recognisable piece I’ve admired from afar for years but could never justify splashing that much cash. On a roll, I added some Soru black onyx hoop earrings (£35 to rent, RRP £145).
But what about the rest of my trip? All of a sudden, the crumpled kaftans and stained sundresses which I would normally chuck in my suitcase for a big holiday seemed a bit depressing. So I decided to upgrade my entire five-day holiday wardrobe.
Shorts suit: Keepsake (£54 four days, £330). ‘While renting occasionwear is nothing new, hiring your holiday wardrobe is the rental market’s newest frontier’, she says
I was showered with compliments on my £475 yellow gown. And dressing like a trust funder made me act like one too
I plumped for a pretty blue and white soft silk crepe de chine maxi dress from luxury London label Beulah (£79 for seven days, RRP £640), which I thought would look great on the beach, and a patterned silk jumpsuit from the same designer (£105 for seven days, RRP £595) to wear out to dinner. It was a bit out of my sartorial comfort zone, but I was finding that fantasy holiday me is braver.
Then I picked a pair of tiger-print Ganni shorts (£64 for seven days, RRP £145) and matching shirt (£42 for seven days, RRP £155) and also the Jacquemus shirt dress (£104 for seven days, RRP £500) on the basis that they would look great for sightseeing in Ibiza Old Town.
I couldn’t resist that Rixo maxi dress (£96 for seven days, RRP £355) and an off-the-shoulder Reformation dress (£87 for seven days, RRP £285) for lounging by the pool in style.
While renting occasionwear is nothing new, hiring your holiday wardrobe is the rental market’s newest frontier. Last year the London hotel Page 8 teamed up with By Rotation to offer a ‘no pack holiday’, with guests choosing looks to rent for their stay as if it were room service.
This summer, most of the major rental companies have curated holiday edits, featuring luxe kaftans, cut-out dresses, designer shorts and even swimwear.
Beach look: Beulah maxi dress (£79 for seven days, RRP £640). She says: ‘A few days after I placed my orders, box after box of tissue-paper-wrapped designer clothes turned up at my door’
The High Street is also now getting in on the act, with brands such as L.K. Bennett and Jigsaw offering rental subscription services.
‘We started a specific beachwear collection last summer,’ says Sacha Newall, founder of My Wardrobe HQ, which launched in November 2019.
‘We noticed a lot of customers were hiring all the looks for their two-week holiday, normally to places like St Tropez or Mykonos where you dress to impress.
‘Someone who’s going away will rent a selection of contemporary casual day dresses from Jigsaw and Hush, plus a few showstopper pieces from Giambattista Valli or Gucci.
‘Everybody has a holiday wardrobe different to their home style, or at least a few pieces they only wear abroad, so it makes sense to be able to update this without buying new.’
My Wardrobe HQ is unique in that it also offers swimwear, fitness and skiwear edits. Although the idea of wearing a rented bikini feels a bit icky, Sacha assures me that all their clothes have a medical-grade clean before you receive them.
A few days after I placed my orders, box after box of tissue-paper-wrapped designer clothes turned up at my door. It was like an epic internet shopping binge without the guilt.
If you are going to rent a holiday wardrobe you do need to be organised. I’d recommend starting your search at least two weeks before you fly.
Elegant: Panambi top and skirt combination (£37.60 for four days, RRP £297). ‘It turns out well-cut clothes in luxurious fabrics are more flattering and comfortable,’ Kate admits
Some outfits didn’t suit me as much as I hoped, and I sent back one dress because it was too tight (and that was before any holiday eating and drinking).
Most sites offer a full refund if you return the items with tags, so you can try before you hire. But everything else I ordered looked even better on than it did on the website.
I also discovered just why people drop big money on designer clothes when you can buy something just as nice on the more upscale end of the High Street.
It turns out well-cut clothes in luxurious fabrics are more flattering and comfortable. I’d been feeling a bit self-conscious about baring my post-baby body on holiday, but these designer outfits hid a multitude of sins.
If I was surprised by how straightforward renting was, my holiday packing was even easier. I flung all the clothes I’d borrowed into a case, many of them still in the packaging they’d come in.
Normally I’m struggling to close my bag, but because I knew exactly what I would be wearing over the next five days, I could travel seriously light.
I was showered with compliments when wearing my ‘something borrowed’ yellow gown to the wedding.
Floral: Rixo maxi dress (£96 for seven days, RRP £355). She explains: ‘Dressing like an unapologetic trust-funder made me act like one too’
Cool: Jacquemus shirt dress (£104 for seven days, RRP £500). Kate says: ‘If I had the money, I’d rent all my clothes for every holiday’
The best rental sites
THE ONE FOR…FIRST-TIMERS
The biggest peer-to-peer rental platform with more than 20,000 items being rented and loaned, mainly through people’s wardrobes. Brands are a mixture of contemporary and designer.
THE ONE FOR…SERIOUS FASHION FANS
My Wardobe HQ
With an incredible selection of uber-luxe labels — you’ll find Chanel espadrilles and Gucci dresses — this slick platform counts celebrities and influencers as fans.
THE ONE FOR…HANDBAGS
If you’re dying to get your hands on the Prada raffia tote or a Loewe basket, this subscription service allows you to rent and swap designer arm candy.
THE ONE FOR…THOSE ON A BUDGET
Clothes from High Street heroes such as Asos, Whistles, Zara and Hobbs from less than £1 a day. It boasts sizes ranging from four to 20.
And when someone asked where it was from, I didn’t let on that I didn’t actually own it.
Women often self-deprecatingly play down new outfits — ‘Oh, this old thing?!’ — but this dress was so obviously incredible I would have felt silly even attempting that. I guess I should have come clean that I’d rented it — and confessed that I could never afford to buy it — but I simply didn’t feel the need.
Dressing like an unapologetic trust-funder made me act like one too. The wedding was full of designer labels and I wanted to fit in. And yes, I swerved the red wine and didn’t get tipsy, just in case.
Although most sites will cover accidental wear and tear, if the garment is damaged beyond repair then you’re paying the full retail price and keeping it. At the end of the night a few wedding guests jumped in the pool, but obviously I couldn’t risk that.
Renting my holiday wardrobe elevated the whole trip for me. It made it feel special, a bit like upgrading your hotel room to a suite or getting bumped up to business class on the flight.
And it was a bonus not to come home with a suitcase full of dirty clothes to wash and then try to cram back into my full wardrobe. With a few clicks, all the dirties were picked up from my house — I didn’t even have to queue at the post office.
That said, I was sad to say goodbye to them. Some of our favourite holiday memories are tied up in the clothes we’ve worn.
I have an embroidered kaftan that always makes me think of travelling through India because I wore it to death in Goa, and there’s a Patagonia fleece which instantly transports me back to seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. With nothing in my wardrobe to remind me of this trip, would I remember it in the same way?
It had only been a holiday romance but I had become emotionally attached to these clothes. We’ve all heard of buyer’s remorse, but I was experiencing ‘renter’s regret’. The De La Vali dress was such a statement that I’d probably never wear it again, but I could really see how the Ganni shorts and shirt would work for my everyday London summer style.
So much so, I was tempted to buy them. Many sites offer you the chance to buy the pieces you love, deducting the cost of your rental from the retail price.
And while not coming home to a mountain of washing was a strange but brilliant novelty, I did have post-holiday blues when casting an eye over my humdrum quotidian wardrobe.
If I had the money, I’d rent all my clothes for every holiday. It was a great way to experiment with my style, discover new designers and try on a swanky new persona for size. In total I spent around £500, which is a fortune, I know, but strangely, I still don’t feel guilty. Maybe the confidence of fantasy-fashion me is rubbing off?
Thinking like a multi-millionaire, I tell myself I could have easily dropped the same amount on a single dress that I wore just once, so it’s not a bad deal. It also cost less than my holiday rental car — and I know which I enjoyed more.