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My aversion to rental, is it all mental?

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

You may have already stayed in a strangers house whilst holidaying, had a stranger pick you up and drive you from A to B, or rented your Friday night movie. But have you ever tried rental or subscription fashion?


What Airbnb, and Uber deliver now was once a foreign concept, but have since become services we book without batting an eyelid. The relationship we have with our things is changing.


Is the same about to happen to our wardrobes?

While the idea of renting clothes is not new, subscription wardrobes are beginning to show promise.


According to WRAP UK “The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.” The rental and subscription clothing model would seem to offer a sustainable and ethical solution to this.


However, this emerging sector isn’t without its challenges, requiring significant behavioural shifts and the overcoming of some mental and emotional barriers.


Renting is good. Yeah?!

I rent my apartment, hire cars for weekends away, subscribe to Netflix for entertainment purposes, and use Uber when I am feeling lazy. But when it comes to renting fashion, I just don’t think it's for me.


Don't get me wrong, I am all for the movement. I understand that renting your wardrobe can save you money, time, and reduce wardrobe clutter, and I get the appeal for capturing those perfect "gram" shots, and the required #OOTD.


Most importantly, the ethical and sustainable credentials are undeniable. One of the best things we can do when it comes to reducing our environmental impact is increase the number of times we wear a single piece of clothing, Why? Because it reduces resources from a production side, and reduces the number of garments that are disposed of each year. Win win in my opinion, considering that the industry contributes more to climate change than air and sea travel, and filling landfill with clothing and textiles costs the UK alone upwards of £80m every year.


The idea of wearing something pre-worn doesn't even bother me. My wardrobe is littered with second-hand pieces.


So, as someone who is not rolling in money, nor time, lives in a small apartment, considers themselves pretty 'into fashion', and has a particular interest in ethical and sustainable practices within the industry, as well as the impacts these practices have on the individuals involved, why am I not jumping at the chance to 'rent the runway'?


Psychology of ownership

Maybe Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget can help me on this one.


I recommend watching the short TedEd clip below, which details the psychology of ownership and introduces some interesting studies (see links below for further reading).

What was found was that babies demonstrated “violent rage” whenever deprived of an item they considered their own. I get this, even now as an adult. I reckon that I would rather give a limb than part with some items hanging in my wardrobe (maybe a little too dramatic?).


As described by Christian Jarrett in an article for The Psychologist, this relationship with our belongings starts early, and this concept of ownership, as if our 'stuff' is a part of ourselves, is grasped by the age of two. By age six, children can show signs of the ‘endowment effect’, whereby extra value is placed on an object simply by virtue of it being, or having been, theirs.


Please explain.

  • I have moved a few times over the years, including a move across the globe, and downsizing from a house to an inner city 1 bed apartment, so I am used to the odd 'wardrobe clear-out'. What often happens however, is me thinking that I am ready to part with an item only to discover that when push comes to shove, I just can't do it. I might take a trip down memory lane, remembering that event I wore the top too, or the job interview I may have nailed while wearing it. Or maybe I'll have a lightbulb moment and find a new way to style it and come up with an excuse to wear it again.

  • I remember recently having to leave my favourite pair of hi-top sneakers, which let's just say, had seen better days, out for my partner to kindly "dispose of" while I was away so I didn't have to do it.

  • I can't see myself ever having a 'capsule' wardrobe. Firstly because I would have to part with too many items to get there, but also because I like having options readily available.

The point is, I get very attached to the clothes I own. So the idea of ordering an amazing looking jumper, having it arrive beautifully for me to unwrap, have it sit in my wardrobe, wear it once, maybe twice, which I begin to attach memories to, only to have to return it in a few days, just makes me sad.


Do you rent your wardrobe? Do you find it easy to return the garments after you have worn them? Are you hesitant like me, to try rental fashion?


Leave me a comment or let me know via my 'Contact' page.


Additional resources:

I have included the links to some of the studies mentioned in the TedEd talk if you're interested.

Distinct neural networks support the mere ownership effect under different motivational contexts


Experimental tests of the endowment effect and the coase theorem

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