Congress

Wardrobe rentals may be just what staffers need

Cost, diversity and environmental impact all led to popularity of service

Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, center, has been renting clothing from Rent the Runway since before she came to Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The black bags pile up at the UPS drop-off spots across the Capitol’s campus, whether it’s the weekend after the White House Correspondents Dinner or the Monday that Congress is set to return from a long recess.

Filled with evening gowns, cocktail dresses, or a blouse or blazer that might have been worn to sit behind a boss during a high-profile hearing, the bags are en route back to a Rent the Runway facility. If the number of bags that pop up in Capitol office buildings are any indication, more and more women on the Hill are using the clothing rental service to supplement their work wardrobes.

Rent the Runway users rent clothing from the website, which offers most types of women’s clothing. Commonly known as a way to rent an outfit for a wedding or a black-tie event, say, an Inaugural Ball, the company expanded its offerings to make it easier for women to rent clothing more frequently for all aspects of life.

Rent the Runway is just one of many online clothing rental services that are available to people who want to build their wardrobes with higher-cost pieces or items that are selected for them that they can return if they don’t work out. Subscription services like Stitch Fix or Le Tote are also popular ways to receive a box of clothing or accessories on a monthly basis without making the pricey commitment of buying a trendy piece.

Not to say that a monthly subscription isn’t an investment. According to its website, an unlimited subscription to Rent the Runway costs $159 per month, and its Update program, which allows a buyer to rent four items each month, is $89 each month. But women working on Capitol Hill say they find themselves spending less money shopping when they use the service.

“I feel like I do spend less money shopping because of Rent the Runway,” said Victoria Lee, a Rent the Runway Unlimited subscriber and director of operations for Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran. She added that she might buy “basics,” like a skirt she’ll wear regularly, but isn’t buying as many trendy pieces each season, since she can rent them.

The service also includes dry cleaning, which users say is another way to cut down on their monthly costs.

Renting workwear can give female staffers confidence that they won’t be worried about their appearance, especially in roles that can often result in being in photographs or television coverage with their boss.

“When you’re wearing a really great piece and it fits you well and it’s something you haven’t worn before, it gives you a lot of confidence, which can help you perform or talk to your boss, whatever you’re doing during the day,” said Senate staffer Lauren Canfield.

Jennifer Hyman, one of the company’s two founders, came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as part of a swing through D.C.that included a lunch with members of the Future Forum, a group of young House Democrats. She was there at the invitation of Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who herself is an enthusiastic user of the service.

“I've been using Rent the Runway since before I was in Congress, just as a way to have some diversity in my closet — but also from a conservation perspective, in a sense that clothing, both the production and the wear and disposal of clothing, is actually one of those environmental issues,” Murphy told CQ Roll Call.

During the lunch, Hyman touted some of the company’s policies, including paid family leave and helping employees pay off their student debt. She urged lawmakers to think about how to help colleges and businesses better discuss how to prepare students for the demands of the workforce.

Several members there noted they either used the service or said their wives did. California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said he often adds to the bags piled up in the Capitol by returning his wife’s latest rental.

“Very much aware of your company, it’s on our Bank of America statement,” Swalwell said while introducing himself to laughs around the table. “I’m the one who always brings the bag here to the Capitol.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.