TORONTO - Invitations to weddings, showers and stagettes often jam the summer social calendar, but they can be a drain on the finances of women shelling out for different dresses for every occasion.
On top of dinners and drinks for nights on the town and gifts for the bride and groom, costs can quickly escalate for female guests assembling multiple ensembles. What's more, some fashion-conscious attendees may feel less inclined to give their new frock an immediate repeat wear while among the same circle of friends at summer festivities.
But fear not, fashionistas: formality and frugality don't need to be mutually exclusive.
For those who've combed through their own closets and exhausted borrowed finds from sisters or friends, rental services offer the promise of a fresh, off-the-rack look for less.
Rent Frock Repeat allows customers to browse online for dresses by designer, occasion, colour and body shape that can be shipped anywhere in Canada. Women living in or visiting the Toronto area can arrange for an in-person fitting at their showroom.
Co-founder and president Kristy Wieber said the reasons for renting vary for each customer, with some simply wanting to experiment with new styles while others are seeking to save.
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"They want to be able to wear a great dress but don't want to spend three, four, $500 and have it sit in the closet," she said. "The cost per wear makes no sense. You'd be better off spending that money on a great pair of jeans that you know you'll wear over and over again."
Rent Frock Repeat has an inventory of about 800 dresses in 150 styles, with sizes ranging from 0 to 16. Plus sizes up to size 24 are set to be available in the fall.
Rental fees are roughly 15 or 20 per cent of the retail cost and run from $50 to $250. Wieber said the average four-day rental is $100 to $150. Eight-day rentals are also available and women can book their look of choice up to four months in advance.
It's not just guests that are borrowers. Wieber said they have had bridesmaids renting dresses, as well as brides needing frocks for the many events tied to the nuptials, such as the shower and rehearsal dinner. Some even take dresses on their honeymoon.
Wieber said wedding season is "always crazy" as are the months from September through February with guests attending black tie galas, fundraisers and holiday parties. But Rent Frock Repeat, which marked its first anniversary in May, is seeing a marked interest throughout the year for less formal occasions like a date or girl's night out.
Diversifying your summer style may not even require getting a new dress.
Canadian stylist Alissia Marciano said a great pair of well-made heels is an ideal investment piece. They can translate from casual chic to dressy, while a fancier dress is more limited to a formal event or a really fancy date, she noted. But women needn't feel shoehorned into buying basic black pumps.
"I think you can definitely have a little more fun because you have to remember the shoes you can use as an accessory," Marciano said from Los Angeles.
"You don't want to have something that's too wild that it's so recognizable that people are like, `Wow, she's wearing the polka-dot, floral shoes again.' But they can still have some colour, some detailing, whether it's exotic snakeskin, whether you're colour-blocking with the shoes."
But for women wanting to refresh their dress wardrobe, Marciano suggests purchasing at least two quality options, including a little black dress enhanced with accessories.
"Whether you want to go glam goddess with oversized earrings and bangles and big cocktail rings, or if you want to add a bit more of rock and roll edge to it ... have shoulder-duster earrings with studs with more of a classic dress, if that reflects more of your personal style."
For those with more conservative tastes, Marciano suggests borrowing a page out of Coco Chanel's stylebook and opting for a layered pearl necklace for a classic look. Rectangular or oversized envelope clutches in a variety of colours are also great companions to summer fashions, she noted.
Marciano said women could consider going for a more trendy look for their second dress option, like a peplum. The ruffle or short overskirt that attaches the waistline of jacket, blouse or dress has made waves in warmer weather fashions, and is also translating to the fall runway.
Marciano said many designer outlet boutiques offer deals on high-end dresses where customers can get quality pieces at deeply discounted prices. They can purchase a dress with a longer hemline and have it shortened or even have a tailor take the excess fabric to create capsleeves, she noted.
"You kind of redesign it. You don't have to spend a ton of money to buy a new dress."
Toronto-based designer Rebecca Nixon, owner of Girl Friday, suggests opting for a solid coloured dress rather than a print, which may translate easier when paired with pre-existing accessories like cardigans or blazers. Some may even be able to extend the wear of their summer pick beyond the warmer months.
"A darker dress, say a black dress, a navy dress, even like cobalt blue or red — these are colours that are seasonless."
Nixon suggests women test out all styles and not limit themselves because they think a particular dress won't work with their figure.
"A-line is always flattering. I always think anything around the knee either just below or just above the knee is very nice. It makes your legs look a little bit longer."
But there are certain frocks that may be more suited to particular body types. Nixon said halter styles and thin straps work well for those with broader shoulders.
"If you have a bit of a tummy, empire waists are good because it kind of covers that up, because it accentuates the smallest part of your body which is just under the bust — so it is quite flattering."
Rather than forking over big bucks for a dress, Nixon would feel more inclined to make the investment in accessories — particularly if you don't regularly frequent formal events.
"I guess it depends on your budget. I know people that have spent $3,000 on a dress for their son's bar mitzvah, but I am not in that economic bracket whatsoever. You should really think about if you can actually wear it again."
Alissia Marciano: www.alissiamarciano.com
Girl Friday: www.girlfridayclothing.com
Rent Frock Repeat: http://rentfrockrepeat.com