When a black-tie invitation plops through the letterbox, it is easy to imagine that on the night you might look like a dashing modern-day Paul Newman – photographed here in 1963 – or maybe Grace Kelly at the numerous balls one is required to attend as a princess.
As the date draws closer, however, it becomes increasingly clear that this might be tricky, as there is nothing remotely Newman- or Kelly-esque in your wardrobe.
In the past, this would have led to either a very expensive shopping trip or a panicked phone call to a glamorous friend who would inevitably lend you something that didn’t fit or wasn’t really your style.
Thank goodness, then, for the rental revolution, happening now at black-tie balls, Christmas parties and big nights out all over the UK. It has been such a shift that even established luxury businesses are taking note.
Now, designer brands that are either unaffordable or force us to add up the pros (‘it’s the first Christmas party I’ve been to since the pandemic and my ex will be there’) and the cons (‘the boiler needs fixing… but who really needs hot water anyway?’) are allowing customers to rent directly from them. This includes Emilia Wickstead, Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Celine.
Even the A-list is at it: on nearly any red carpet, at least half the guest list will be in something they, or their stylist more likely, have borrowed from a designer brand.
It makes sense: unlike the jumpers and T-shirts we wear all the time, nobody – not even celebrities – needs an array of ball gowns in their wardrobe.
For men there is a case for buying one black-tie suit you can keep for life – and as a result, there are fewer rental options, although Brunello Cucinelli, Erdem and Agnès b do offer it.
Hesitating to dip your toe in a rental world you thought was only for 20-something influencers? Take the plunge this Christmas.
Read last week's column: Why everything you thought about lingerie is a thing of the past