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The cash-saving but stylish solution to black tie dressing

New Year's Eve at the El Morocco Nightclub, New York City in 1935 - Hulton Archive
New Year's Eve at the El Morocco Nightclub, New York City in 1935 - Hulton Archive

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.

American actor Paul Newman in 1963 - Getty
American actor Paul Newman in 1963 - Getty

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.

Kate Bosworth, Tom Ford and Julianne Moore at the 2016 Golden Globes - Todd Williamson
Kate Bosworth, Tom Ford and Julianne Moore at the 2016 Golden Globes - Todd Williamson

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.

Try these

Black tie
Black tie

Crepe jacket and trousers, rent two pieces for £79, LK Bennett; Leather bag, rent from £12, Anya Hindmarch

Black tie
Black tie

The Vampire’s Wife lamé dress, rent from £184, Matches Fashion Rental; Needle & Thread sequin dress, from £12 a day, My Wardrobe HQ; Paco Rabanne star bag, rent from £19, Cocoon

Black tie
Black tie

Bow tie, rent for £10, The Vintage Suit Hire Company; Dress shirt, rent for £15, Oliver Brown; 3 piece dinner suit with shirt and bowtie, rent for £72, Slaters

Black tie
Black tie

Dinner suit, rent from £169, Neal & Palmer; Michael Kors Jacket and trousers, rent from £119, Rathbones Tailor


Read last week's column: Why everything you thought about lingerie is a thing of the past