Rent the Runway Is Making DC Fashion More Fun

"I wore this bright-orange thing with a massive ruffle and it was just, like, a Tuesday."

Photograph courtesy of The Brand Guild.

What if, instead of judging a city’s fashion sense based on what kind of clothes the locals own, you judged it based on what kind of clothes they don’t own? Partygoers who have noticed an uptick in the number of Christian Siriano jumpsuits and Marchesa Notte floral dresses might first think the designer outfits are a sign of newly deep pockets. In fact, they’re an indication of a business that’s in the process of altering how a certain stratum of Washingtonians dress: Rent the Runway.

Founded in New York a decade ago, it has lately been making a big push into our area. In April, Rent the Runway launched a pilot brand-ambassador program here—the first in the country. It has already tapped more than 700 local “women of influence” to help get the word out as well as attend networking events and get other perks. Washington is the company’s second-largest market after New York.

A subscription service for high-end clothing, Rent the Runway allows customers to borrow an endless supply of clothes. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one prominent fan, and professional party-throwers also swear by its revolving offerings. “I have probably 300 things in my queue right now,” says Svetlana Legetic, founder of Brightest Young Things, which organizes popular events around town. “It’s like putting things into the Netflix queue.”

And if you’ve noticed that DC fashion is a bit more fun lately, Rent the Runway is probably the reason. “It absolutely allows women to take more fashion risks,” says Candace Ourisman, founder of the local business Secretly Gifting and one of the ambassadors. “In DC, it’s a welcome change because I see the same conservative dresses over and over. It’s just such a snore.”

That freedom to experiment can be contagious. Whereas you might previously have had a handful of party-worthy outfits, a subscription means you can tailor the degree of personality for the occasion. “I wore this bright-orange thing with a massive ruffle and it was just, like, a Tuesday,” says Legetic.

For users, spotting fellow fans has become common. “I feel like it’s everywhere,” says Ourisman. “But everyone doesn’t know it’s everywhere, unless somebody brings it up.”

This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.