·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Renting Fashion: Legal Considerations for Clothing Rentals

— December 6, 2023

Clothing rentals are fantastic options for those looking for low-cost ways to rent that fantastic wedding gown or spiffing suit that’ll give you that ‘edge’ at a work conference.

One of the newest fashion trends in recent years has been the concept of fashion rentals. Instead of purchasing a gorgeous wedding dress or a strapping suit for a weekend conference, many people choose a more affordable option: renting.

Renting fashionable clothing is perfect for the short-term wearing of expensive items. Suppose you plan on renting clothing or are a clothing rental company (or are looking to start one). In that case, there are some legal issues to consider and information concerning your rights as a renter and a rental company. Let’s take a look.

How do clothing rentals work? 

Clothing rental is a service companies provide to rent out usually high-end clothing such as dresses or suits and dresses for specific events like weddings, galas, conferences, and other events. It’s perfect for those looking for a weekend suit to wear to a wedding party or work conference.

As these are usually short-term rentals, they are considered more environmentally friendly than purchasing this clothing and then throwing it out after only using it a handful of times. This way, the clothing can be washed, cleaned, and reused by another person, reducing the amount of textile that ends up in landfills, as recycling specific types of clothing like wedding dresses can be difficult.

Why is clothing rental becoming so popular?

The popularity of the clothing rental market has ballooned in recent years, reportedly worth 1.4 billion dollars. This is due to several factors found within the industry, including:

  • The environmentally conscious and sustainable practice of recycling and reusing clothing.
  • Fast delivery times and easy returns processes.
  • Diverse selections of name-brand products. This allows wearers to wear what they like without paying the premium acquisition prices.
  • Growth in internet use worldwide and the ease of use of online rental portals and platforms.
  • For executive fashion, like expensive suits and dresses, using clothing rental companies is cheaper than spending thousands on a wedding dress or tailor-made suit that you’ll only wear once (or a handful of times).

Clothing rental companies are mostly found online, making their rental processes simple and easy for their customers. This is also attractive for individuals who don’t want to spend the time and money going to a specific store and trying on items or when a desired item isn’t in stock in the brick-and-mortar store but can be rented. Companies that provide clothing rental services fill the gaps in service perfectly.

Legal rights and obligations of renters and rental companies

When it comes to renting clothing, there are specific sets of legal obligations that apply to rental companies:

  • They must create comprehensive terms and conditions concerning rental terms and return timelines on their website.
  • They must register themselves as a business and trademark their business name and logo.
  • They must adhere to all state and federal health and safety regulations concerning the safe handling, storage, and shipping of clothing items.
  • All clothing must be washed after each rental period, and the item has been returned.

Renter’s rights

Renters should expect a few simple rights when dealing with a clothing rental company. These should be laid plain and bare in the rental contract and posted on the rental company’s website. These rights include: 

  • The right to return for a full refund on incorrect items supplied by the company that differ from those you ordered.
  • The right to return an item or items that do not fit for either replacement for a properly sized item or a full or partial refund.
  • Canceling an item after ordering: while you can’t expect a company to cancel an order one day after ordering, they should provide several hours after the order has been placed for it to be canceled without financial penalty.

Rental companies’ rights 

Each rental company will have different terms and conditions, but all rental companies have similar rights as other businesses. These can include:

  • Every rental company can refuse services for a specific product or an individual for almost any reason under American law.
  • Every rental company has the right to withhold reimbursement if returned items are damaged or otherwise not in the condition they were when they left the warehouse.
  • All rental companies have the right to implement limited liability frameworks in their rental contracts that protect them from financial litigation in the event of fires, natural disasters, etc. These limited liability clauses are typically within the context of a business-to-business contract.
  • All rental companies should have terms and conditions on their website that clearly state their business practices and terms of service. This is considered a legally binding agreement between the customer and the business. 

Common legal disputes in clothing rentals

There are a few common legal disputes within the clothing rental business. These are often simple misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the rights of the customer or the rights of the rental company or misinterpretations of legal documents like terms and conditions documents. Some of the legal disputes might include the following:

1. Damages to clothing items

Sometimes, customers receive damaged items during shipping and will launch a dispute with the rental company for improperly fulfilling their obligations to deliver undamaged products. Or, vice versa; the company will receive a damaged product as a return from the previous wearer and launch a dispute with the client for damaging a product and returning it anyway.

2. Loss of clothing items

In other disputes, businesses and customers have not received their selected clothing items or a stock return. They will launch a complaint alleging either theft on the part of the customer or an unfulfilled order on the part of the rental company. 

Sometimes, this can lead to police involvement and charges being laid. Other times, the matter is resolved by refunding the customer the total amount paid for the rental (if, say, the Post Office or shipper lost the package in transit), or the rental company will charge the customer the amount of the item lost in the returns process.

3. Sizing issues

One common dispute among rental companies and rentees is that the clothing items are undersized or oversized, meaning they were not accurately advertised on the rental website. This usually results in a return of the item and a refund issued to the customer, as it is the rental company’s responsibility to accurately portray their sizing and match that with the clothing they’re renting out.

4. Allegations of discrimination

One of the more serious legal disputes between a clothing rental company and its customers is allegations of discrimination. Sometimes, customers will allege that clothing rental companies do not provide diverse enough options for clothing in specific sizes. 

For example, not offering clothing sizes for plus-sized women. Or, when it comes to Halloween rental costumes, some companies have been accused of racism for stocking certain costumes that include Indigenous attire or ‘blackface’ options.

How can legal disputes be avoided?

Person using gavel; Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA, via
Person using gavel; Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA, via

As a clothing rental company, the last thing you want to deal with is a legal dispute brought about by an unhappy customer, whether that dispute has merit or not. The less you can deal with lawyers in business, generally, the better off you’ll be. Below are some tips for both parties to avoid legal disputes altogether.

For renters

  • Read and understand the rental companies posted terms and conditions on their website.
  • Ensure that all rented clothing is returned, preferably washed, within the timeframe allotted and that it is in the same condition it was when you received it.
  • Reach out to the company immediately with any sizing issues you’re experiencing. Be friendly and courteous in all communications.
  • If clothing is damaged, admit to it. Don’t be deceptive. You’re unlikely to win this dispute, provided the company maintains its quality assurance practices.

For rental companies

  • Ensure that you’re adhering strictly to health and safety guidelines set forth by your state.
  • Ensure all clothing is washed and dried properly before being rented out again.
  • Post your terms and conditions on your website and your physical store (if applicable), including marked return expectations and refund policies.
  • Provide reasonable timeframes for disputes to be launched by customers and respond to all disputes in a prompt manner. Doing so indicates sincerity and a commitment to getting it right for your customers.
  • Ensure all sizing labels on your clothes match your online store’s sizing stock.
  • Engage in understanding practices concerning cultural appropriation of items to avoid allegations of discrimination. 

Summing up

Clothing rentals are fantastic options for those looking for low-cost ways to rent that fantastic wedding gown or spiffing suit that’ll give you that ‘edge’ at a work conference or that once-a-year rental for a ‘spooktastic’ Halloween. 

As such, clothing rentals are gaining popularity in Europe and North America. Disputes over products are an unfortunate consequence of being in business; they will happen to you at some point and are almost unavoidable. 

When you do encounter a dispute, whether you’re a clothing renter and have encountered a problem with an item or are a rental company and have encountered an unhappy customer, try and handle every situation with grace and deference, providing clear communication on remediation opportunities that don’t include a protracted legal conflict.

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