How to look more put-together at work: A guide to subscription services

It’s the worst feeling in the world: Looking in your closet and seeing only drab, tired clothes hanging on your rack. And then, it’s REALLY the worst feeling in the world: Looking in the mirror and seeing a tired, drab person staring back at you.

That’s why sometimes it’s okay to invest in a makeover. A few new items can be exactly what you need to put a bounce back in your step and make you excited to go into the office.


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And today, there are so many different ways to change up your look. Sure, you can go to the mall for a traditional shopping spree. But with the advent of subscription services, there are also more innovative, complicated ways to update your wardrobe.

To help you navigate some of these alluring options that are steeped in mystery, Ladders tried a number of subscription services for the modern professional. Here, we outline our first impressions, notes and recommendations for any woman looking to freshen up her fashion.

Rent the Runway Unlimited

Perhaps you’ve heard of Rent the Runway, the service women lean on for beautiful designer gowns and cocktail dresses. If you’ve been to a wedding, graduation or gala, chances are at least someone there was in Rent the Runway. The brand also just partnered with WeWork to make it even more accessible for working women on the go.

But beyond one-time rentals, the company also has an unlimited service that allows you to access your dream closet for $159 a month (this is the standard price, though they often give discounts for your first month so you can try the service with a lower buy-in.) These rentals can be anything from a cute work outfit to a date night look or evening gown for the opera. The variety is extensive, though all the options become more manageable when you narrow down the pool by size and style.

How it works: Unlimited members have access to four clothing items at a time. They can be shirts, skirts, dresses, pants, sweaters, purses, coats, or just about anything your heart desires (other than shoes). Once you receive your item, you can keep it for as long as you want, if you remain an Unlimited member. So if you really love one dress, you can hold onto it for a month or two. But if you hate a shirt the moment you try it on, you can send it back the next day to trade for another piece of clothing.

Though the looks are technically on loan, they’re all insured, so there’s no need to worry about having to pay large sums if something accidentally happens. That said, if you do want to buy one of your items, that option is available at a discounted price. Also, there’s no limit to the number of times you can rent the same item, so if you want to re-rent a sweater time and time again, you absolutely can.

To return clothes, the process is relatively simple. Rent the Runway orders come in a garment bag, and so to send them back, you put them in the bag and change out your shipping label for a prepaid printed return label provided by Rent the Runway with your shipment. The company also sends out optional plastic locks to keep the garment bag zipped up during travel. All you have to do is drop off the packed up garment bag at your local UPS (which is simpler for some people than for others — mine was only two blocks away).

If you live near a Rent the Runway storefront in Woodland Hills, California, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco or New York, you can always go into the shop and exchange your items for something new, on the spot.

First impression: When I first signed up for Unlimited, I was shocked by how quickly things moved. Within minutes, I was an Unlimited member. I went through Rent the Runway’s available inventory, and by about 10:30 a.m., my first shipment was “in the works.” By 12:30 p.m., it had shipped, and it was delivered to my home that night.

I don’t know if this is normal across the country — probably not. But at least in New York, which is very near the Rent the Runway fulfillment center in Secaucus, New Jersey, the turnaround was almost immediate. I had my new clothes the Friday I joined the service and could wear them that weekend.

Observations long-term: I used Unlimited for two months, and it was very fun. When I traveled, I could pack an all-new, freshly dry-cleaned wardrobe that I would not have to wash when I got back. For work, I could switch out my clothes almost daily. The turnaround was so quick that I knew if I returned items on a Tuesday, I’d be able to order new ones on a Wednesday to have for Thursday.

The clothing was all beautiful. The fit-and-flare dresses by La Petite Robe di Chiara Boni were my favorites, but there were also offerings from Marchesa Notte, Proenza Schouler, Christian Siriano and other major brands. It’s true that a lot of what was listed was clearly from past collections, and I saw some of it on discount sites such as Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Off Fifth. But to buy a single piece, even at a discount, would have likely cost far more than the $159 a month for unlimited access to all of them.

For the first month and a half, I would get actively excited when my rentals arrived. Each package provided the same feeling you get whenever you buy something new, without all the strings and commitment issues attached. It was a joy to get dressed in the morning because I knew I was going to look spectacular, or at least interesting.

But by the end of my trial, the initial thrill of Unlimited had worn off a bit. The clothes were not especially comfortable; I was choosing for aesthetic, not texture, and it became more of a burden each day to put on tight dresses or trendy sweaters that were distractingly itchy.

I was still sad to see my Unlimited subscription go — it provided immense entertainment and made me feel put together and dynamic. But I couldn’t justify $159 a month… especially after some of the glitz and glam had worn off.

Recommendations: If you want a constantly updated closet, this service is for you. Sure, it’s not cheap, but the cost is nothing compared to buying couture for sticker price. That said, you may try Unlimited and after some time decide it’s not quite your speed. Maybe you’re like me and your body type is hard to fit. Or maybe you prefer owning a few great pieces instead of having a bunch of really good ones on loan. That’s your prerogative, just as it was mine.

Le Tote

Much like Rent the Runway Unlimited, Le Tote allows you to rent pieces for a flat monthly fee. The “classic” plan includes 10 clothing items and five accessories and runs you $119 per month.

But unlike Rent the Runway Unlimited, the clothing at Le Tote isn’t all that special. To buy all the pieces from my box (I only partook for one month), it would have cost me $997. Meanwhile, if I bought everything I  rented from Unlimited over two months, that would have rung up at $13,861.

That’s partly because Le Tote’s brands are more what you’d see at Macy’s than at Bergdorf’s. Some of their top designers include Kate Spade New York (mainly for jewelry) and Tahari. In my box, I had items from BCBGeneration, French Connection and Free People.

How it works: When you join Le Tote, you’re asked to fill out a questionnaire about what styles you wish to receive. Do they want a tunic shirt, or is off-the-shoulder more your look? Are you hoping for business clothes, or something to go out in? And what sizes do you wear in each type of clothing?

After some time, your tote is compiled and ready to review. You can change out any looks you don’t fancy for something different before the package ships.

Every month, you become eligible for a new tote, but only after you return your old one. The return process is easy; just slip any clothes you don’t want to buy at a discount in a provided return envelope and send it off.

First impression: Compared to Unlimited, Le Tote felt very slow. It took more than 24 hours for my tote to be styled, and when it was, I opened it up to find very few pieces that actually appealed to me. They were all rather plain, and despite giving my input on the quiz, I felt the stylist had completely missed the mark.

I went into my tote and traded most items for alternatives, but as I browsed Le Tote’s collection, I didn’t see much I liked. Unlike with Unlimited, where so many looks jumped off the page, nothing really grabbed me. It became tedious scrolling, and I started just adding things so I could be done.

I was also disappointed that I had to add accessories. I’m already the kind of person who wears the same necklace and bracelet every day, so having to choose five accessories that I likely would never wear instead of clothing that I would was annoying. But to add to my angst, a lot of the jewelry looked cheap and costume-y, which made it a guarantee that I’d never even put it on.

After my tote was finalized, it took a full week to arrive — a long time to wait for what would prove to be mediocre clothing.

Observations long-term: I wore very few of the outfits that I got from Le Tote. Though they were comfortable, most of the pieces were ill-fitting and unflattering, and they looked cheaply made. I felt self-conscious in them and preferred my old wardrobe to these new pieces.

When a billing issue arose, it took Le Tote’s customer service seven days to respond. They eventually fixed the problem and acknowledged the delay in their message. But the time lapse created unnecessary consternation on my part as I felt less valued as a customer than among other subscription services.

Recommendations:  I would not recommend Le Tote to anyone who has an established fashion sense. Even with the online quiz, I think it’s difficult for stylists to infer your look, and chances are you’re going to be disappointed by what shows up in your tote. Plus, the $119 price tag isn’t all that much less than Unlimited, where you can access far nicer brands.

Wantable

With personalization making a major comeback, services that curate your clothing for you are on the rise. One such service is Wantable, where a personal stylist will come up with a selection of looks for you after you take a detailed quiz on your fashion preferences. My box had seven items, which together would have cost $398.40. That’s in addition to a $20 styling fee.

How it works: Once your package arrives, you get five days to decide if any of the items are keepers. You can choose one, all, or none (but get ready for a note from your stylist if you forgo all her picks).

Already, on your style quiz, you’ve answered questions about how much you’re willing to pay per item. But be warned — the cheapest piece in my shipment was $58… for a basic Henley shirt.

This isn’t a rental service; you’re shipping to buy. And if you send everything back, you’ve still paid the $20 styling fee.

First impression: The style quiz was far more detailed than for Le Tote, and the shipping process was much quicker. I confirmed my style edit on Feb. 4, and it arrived by Feb. 8.

Observations long-term: Unlike Unlimited or Le Tote, Wantable’s service is more a week-long process than a month-long thing. The stakes are also higher — you’re shopping to buy, so anything you don’t send back is a long-term commitment.

With all of that in mind, I was unimpressed by what came in the mail. None of it looked like something I would wear. The stylist’s comments were nice — she told me how to pair different pieces, and even tailored her advice to where I lived. But none of that mattered if I didn’t like any of the looks themselves, and I really didn’t.

I also thought much of what I received was overpriced for what it was. A long-sleeve pullover was $68. The jumpsuit she sent was $99. I knew I could get cuter, more unique designer pieces online for far less, so why would I spend that much on something that was just so-so?

Recommendations: For people who hate to shop, this may be an ideal service. But for others like me who want input in their style, it seems an online quiz — no matter how detailed — won’t cut it. That’s not to say that the picks can’t get better over time; when I sent back all my selections, my stylist reached out asking what she could do better next time.  But it’s always going to be a gamble when you’re not the one selecting for yourself.

FabFitFun

This was my favorite subscription service that I tried. Unlike the others, FabFitFun is not exclusively clothing. A box may include socks, robes, backpacks headbands, gloves, jewelry or other goodies to spruce up your look, but it’s really more of a one-stop shop for a total makeover. Usually, FabFitFun boxes have options for beauty products such as lotion, face creams, masks and other luxury products to leave you rejuvenated even as you slip into your same old clothes.

How it works: FabFitFun provides a seasonal box to members for $49.99 each season (but they often run promotions, so look out for discounts). Inside, there are $200 worth of treats — everything from technology to fashion to beauty products.

Once you subscribe to FabFitFun, you can personalize your selections to choose which high-ticket items you want in your box. Then, the box ships as you eagerly await its arrival. Everything inside is yours to keep, and if there’s anything that doesn’t strike your fancy, most all items make for good gifts.

First impression: When my box arrived, I was struck by how chock-full of goodies it was, and how great the presentation was. It seemed like a never-ending pile of fun new toys, from a face mask, to an eye mask, to lotion, to a new winter headband and a cute circle pendant. There was also a beautiful blanket, perfect for snuggling up on the couch.

Observations long-term: Each product I tried, I loved. The lotion smelled delightful. The mask made me look 10 times more rested than I actually was. Everything was high quality, and when I looked up sticker price, I was glad I had gotten them this way.

Which brings me to the sizes. It’s not like you’re getting product samples. These are full-sized tubes and packages, and they’ll last you a while if you’re careful.

I liked my box so much that I sent one to a friend, just to. I knew how much she’d enjoy it. And because the box is seasonal, the buy-in isn’t too bad — right now, because of a discount, an annual subscription is only $179.99.

Recommendations: If I could have held onto only one subscription, it would have been this one. Sure, it wasn’t a new closet. But the FabFitFun box gave me a new wave of energy that I hadn’t gotten from any of the clothing services. I felt as though I had gone through my very own makeover, and I get to repeat the ritual all the time. Every Saturday, I can sit back and put on my mask for some spa time before taking on yet another work week.


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