Rentals all the rage for year-end gowns

By Hai Hien, Quynh Nguyen   January 29, 2024 | 02:52 am PT
As Lunar New Year approaches, dress and clothing rentals for Tet parties are flying from shelves – people would rather not shell out millions of dong (VND1 million = $40.69) for something they’ll wear only once.

On the afternoon of Jan. 16, Nguyen Nhung, 30, from Hanoi's Tay Ho District and three of her colleagues visited a clothing shop on Trang Quang Dieu Street, Dong Da District, looking for outfits to rent for their year-end party. The whole group needed to find a white or red dress to match the party's dress code.

Companies in Vietnam often hold year-end parties before Tet (Lunar New Year). Tet, Vietnam’s biggest and most important festival, will last from Feb. 8 to 14, 2024. The traditional festival will peak on Feb. 10.

Nhung said that she has high standards for clothes and is hesitant to wear an outfit that has been photographed before, so instead she likes to rent different dresses for different events.

The price per rental for these designers’ products range from VND200,000-400,000 per product, while the buying price can go up to several millions of dong.

"Buying new is very wasteful, but renting means you have beautiful clothes every year that don't go out of style," she said. Nhung also said that each year she chooses a different rental store to diversify her options.

Nguyen Nhung at a party dress rental store on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Hanois Dong Da District, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Nguyen

Nguyen Nhung at a party dress rental store on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Hanoi's Dong Da District, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/ Quynh Nguyen

Anh Thu, 28 years old from Hanoi's Cau Giay District, is also renting a dress for a year-end party.

She said evening gowns are often designed to be stylish, sophisticated, and somewhat seductive, so they are only suitable for evening parties. Not to mention that some dresses cost up to tens of millions of dong, out of reach for someone with an office salary like her.

"I can't spend a few million dong to buy a dress just for one evening, I can’t wear it often if I keep it, can’t gain much if I resell it, especially when the economy isn’t doing so well with our lowered salaries and lack of Tet bonuses," Thu said.

Two weeks before the company party, the 28-year-old girl went to famous stores hoping to rent a suitable dress.

The number of people renting costumes for year-end parties like Nhung and Thu tends to increase about a month before Tet.

A recent VnExpress survey showed that Vietnam is home to dozens of online groups and services for renting and selling outfits. The largest group has 70,000 members, with about 40 new posts every day – most are about requests to rent dresses for year-end parties. Below the post, many rental shops advertise their services with contact information.

Customers browse designer outfits at a rental shop on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Hanois Dong Da District, Jan. 16. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Customers browse designer outfits at a rental shop on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Hanoi's Dong Da District, Jan. 16. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Thu Thao, manager of a designer clothing rental store on Tran Quang Dieu Street, Dong Da District, said demand for renting party dresses and ao dai tends to increase after the 7th lunar month of the Lunar Year due to wedding season. The 12th lunar month records the highest increase in demand due to companies holding year-end parties, she said.

"Before the pandemic, the demand for renting clothes for year-end parties increased three times compared to other months. But due to negative impacts on the economy, this year many companies do not hold year-end parties, so the number of rentals is expected to only double," said Thu Thao.

On average, Thao's store serves about 40 customers every day, and even more on weekends. With 300 different models of party dresses and ao dai, there was a time when customers rented out nearly three fourth of the products, mainly black, white, or beige clothes. Prices range from VND200,000-600,000 per visit depending on the model.

In addition to Thao's store, many clothing rental stores in Hanoi are also starting to bustle at the end of the year. Customers are mostly office workers. Peak times to welcome visitors are noon, evening, and weekends.

"We often advise customers to book in advance to have a larger number of options," said an employee of a clothing rental store in Cau Giay District.

Not only in Vietnam, but clothing rental services are also growing strongly globally, especially after Covid-19 and the economic recession. In a study in early 2023, global consulting firm Bain & Company predicted that by 2030, second-hand fashion will account for about 20% of the fashion industry's sales, of which services for clothing rentals account for about 10%.

Even though experts predict a smaller customer base for renting than buying second-hand items, the potential is still there with 19% of customers planning to use this service over the next five years, according to Globaldata.

Bain & Company's report also predicts "sustainable luxury" will be a growing trend in the next decade, and the fashion rental industry is laying the foundation. Some luxury fashion brands such as Maison Margiela, Marni, Pyer Moss, and Altuzarra also started to participate in the trend by launching "borrowing rights" and "use rights" services for VIP customers.

Associate Professor Dr. Do Minh Cuong, former lecturer at the University of Economics and the Vietnam National University, said that renting outfits on special occasions instead of buying them is increasingly popular because people are starting to care more about the "sharing economy" and smart consumption. The characteristic of this economy is to encourage renting, reusing old things, and avoiding buying new things to save money.

According to the expert, in the current difficult economic situation, spending millions on clothes that can only be worn a few times is an inappropriate way of spending. Not only is renting clothes cheaper, but you don't have to worry about lacking storage space or wasting money on laundry.

Cuong affirmed that the trend of renting clothes will increasingly develop because of its convenience, usefulness, and suitability to the economic needs of many consumers. However, for those who pursue sophistication, like exclusivity, or are afraid of being gossiped about, renting can make it difficult to meet their requirements.

"This is the trend of the future, used by many celebrities and politicians around the world. There is no reason to be shy or embarrassed," Cuong said.

In addition to year-end party clothes, some customers also rent dresses and ao dai for the entire Lunar New Year holiday. The rental price is no more expensive than usual.

Bao Ninh, from the northern province of Hai Duong, plans to rent two ao dai, priced at VND150,000 each, to wear for this year’s Tet. The 27-year-old girl said that a designer ao dai costs an average of VND1-2 million, while the same product if rented costs only one tenth of that.

"Clothes are not gold or silver to hoard, so it’s better to save for something else," the office worker said.

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