Designer style available from Girl Meets Dress: left & right: Marc Jacobs; centre: Temperley

Making Heads Turn

8th October 2010

Dress hire has come of age. Lisa Graff finds out how the modern fashionista is making heads turn.

True beauty may come from within, but a sensational dress will have a woman walking into a room with her head held high and a dazzling air of confidence. Whether she favours edgy new trends or timeless classics, nobody looks more beautiful than the women who feels that she is…

Some of us will pound the streets purposefully, while others will trawl through endless websites in the quest for the dress that releases their inner goddess. If the occasion merits it, there might also be vertiginous heels, an elegant clutch and an indulgent blow-dry to complete the look.

As the evening draws to a close, this woman is triumphant and the dress has served her well. The next morning, however, the adored couture is forced into the wardrobe. It looks back at her beseechingly… too gorgeous to languish in the dark, it wants to come out and play.

As time passes there is another event to attend and the dress can be unleashed on the world once more. But this time it feels different. The novelty of this wondrous creation is fading like a romance that has passed the honeymoon phase. The dress is no longer a new adventure and the more fabulous it was at the original unveiling, the more likely it is to be recognised as a repeat next time around. Like telling a joke for the second time, the sentiment may still be there but the element of surprise has all but gone.

What solution can there be? Should we break the bank to buy a new dress each time one is needed or should we reduce our budget and compromise on something less special for each occasion? These really aren't questions that women like to ask themselves when we should be contemplating the feel of the fabric, the skill of the cut and the exquisite embellishments.

Like many great ideas, the answer, is not so much new as an old one re-invented. Dress hire is coming into its own in 2010. Gone are visions of moth-eaten old meringues and gentlemen's tuxedos.

The halcyon days of blowing the budget on a one-wear wonder have gone and credibility rests with the savvy fashionista. By hiring instead of buying, a woman can save money. Spending just a fraction of the full retail cost to borrow a dress, she can use her full budget to upgrade to a more magnificent ensemble or if she's feeling sensible, a balance of the two.

Gayle Rinkoff, stylist to stars such as Cynthia Nixon, Helen Mirren and Zoe Ball, also supplies designer dresses for her clients to hire. In her impressive collection, dresses adorn the rails like models lining up for a catwalk show: sleek, elegant and ready to shine. Designers include top names – Matthew Williamson, Marc Jacobs and Diane Von Furstenberg, to name but a few. The style is unquestionable and the workmanship first class. Hidden beneath the silk, the chiffon, the sequins and the sparkles is all the internal corsetry your heart, and waistline, could desire.

Gayle explains that “Hiring dresses and accessories is perfect for women who have designer tastes but not the budget to match or maybe just don't like wearing the same outfit twice.”

Dress hire makes sense for all sorts of occasions. You could be attending a wedding, maybe even as a bridesmaid intent on avoiding a pink chiffon meringue. You may be beckoned to a day at the races or a black tie ball, a school prom or a corporate function, and at this time of year, the inevitable round of Christmas parties is already on the horizon.

Anna Bance, CEO of Girl Meets Dress, says that her clients can “save money by resisting the urge to accumulate a closet full of items that cost a fortune – but are quickly outdated. We all have those pieces at the back of the wardrobe, bought for yet another wedding/party/interview but then not worn more than a couple of times. Girl Meets Dress reconciles such fashion conundrums perfectly.” Dress hire gives you the “luxury of an endless closet”.

And if the thought of wearing another woman's dress appals you, fear not. Anna assures me that modern cleaning methods present the dress like new for every outing.

The UK dress hire market is big business. So much so, that St Albans-based Anna Bance recently won ‘Innovator of The Year’ at the 2010 Specsavers everywoman in Retail Award. With the contemporary media – magazines and papers, television and internet – bringing us the greatest volume of news and images ever in lightning-fast time, it is no wonder that women feel they have something to live up to. Aspirations are increasing all the time.

And in a modern twist, many dress hire businesses, Girl Meets Dress included, now offer their customers the opportunity to hire dresses that have become associated with certain celebrities. It is not unusual to be offered the ‘Sarah Jessica Parker Halston Heritage dress’ or the ‘Herve Leger dress worn by Cheryl Cole’.

There’s an eco-angle too. For anyone uncomfortable with the modern habit of throw-away fashion, this is a way to avoid the wastefulness of under-exploited garments lying neglected in your closet. This idea appeals to many a consumer. Katie Bradford, Property Consultant and keen observer of fads and fashion, is a fan. “And not just dresses,” she adds, “but shoes, handbags and, if I'm really going all-out, the jewellery as well. Why tie myself in to one look by blowing my whole budget upfront. By hiring an outfit my wardrobe becomes unlimited.”

The old saying goes that you should dress for the job that you want, not for the job that you have. By hiring clothes that would otherwise be out of our reach we can be ambitious and push to be the very best version of ourselves that we know how to be… whatever the occasion.

Find Your Local