I rented clothes from 5 different services over the course of 3 months and saw how the model could be the future of fashion

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  • The clothing rental market is booming thanks to shifting consumer demand for e-commerce and sustainable fashion. According to GlobalData Retail, the industry is expected to reach $4.4 billion by 2028.
  • Thanks to the success of services like Rent the Runway, a rising number of retailers are rolling out monthly rental services as an alternative way to get dressed.
  • I tested five clothing rental services and ranked my favorites based on overall value, user experience, and style options. My favorite was Nuuly, the new service launched by URBN, parent company of Urban Outfitters.
  • Though Nuuly doesn't offer an unlimited option - in which users can swap out a set number of items as many times as they'd like during the course of the month - you can rent six items at half the price of Rent the Runway.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Though I'm a reporter who writes regularly about e-commerce for a digital publication, the truth is I don't like online shopping.

I'm perhaps an anomaly among my millennial peers in that I much prefer the experience of physically visiting a store, trying on clothing, and ruminating over it extensively before making a purchase. I also have a fondness for thrift shopping and relish combing through racks to score a unique piece at a bargain price, a practice I'm aware many find cumbersome and time-consuming.

So when it was suggested I trial a handful of the buzziest monthly clothing rental programs - an industry that continues to grow at a rapid pace, on track to reach $4.4 billion by 2028 according to GlobalData Retail - I was both skeptical and intrigued. For as much buzz as rental gets, could renting clothing really be the future of fashion?

Read more: Millennials' attitudes towards clothing ownership are bringing about a major change in the fashion industry

My ultimate takeaway: Yes, but each of the services still has several kinks to iron out before the average consumer has a closet filled with rental pieces. While there are several perks to these programs - both personal and environmental - tracking my orders was a bit of a logistical headache. In one case I rented a dress for a wedding that didn't make it to me in time. In another, I lost a package and had to search for it in the depths of my office basement.

Over the past few months, I trialed Express Style Trial, Rebecca Taylor RNTD, Vince Unfold, Rent the Runway Unlimited, and Nuuly. Here's my ranking, from worst to best:

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5. Express Style Trial, $69.95 for unlimited monthly three-item rental

5. Express Style Trial, $69.95 for unlimited monthly three-item rental

In an effort to compete with major players like Rent the Runway, there's been a rise of mall brands joining the rental arena. In addition to Express, retailers like Ann Taylor and American Eagle have also thrown their hat in the ring.

Once I signed up, I was able to personalize my experience by selecting a range of sizes and preferences, including color and style.

Once I signed up, I was able to personalize my experience by selecting a range of sizes and preferences, including color and style.

Frustratingly, in my experience several items of interest were unavailable.

Though I was only able to rent three pieces at a time, I was asked to fill my virtual closet with eight items and notified that Express would only send pieces as available.

Though I was only able to rent three pieces at a time, I was asked to fill my virtual closet with eight items and notified that Express would only send pieces as available.

Unlike competitors like Rent the Runway, you don't know exactly what you'll get in your box — my least favorite part of Express Style Trial.

My first box took about a week to arrive, the longest of the services I tested.

My first box took about a week to arrive, the longest of the services I tested.

I only ended up receiving one of my three "priority" items, and two of them looked a bit worse for wear.

I only ended up receiving one of my three "priority" items, and two of them looked a bit worse for wear.

One looked like it had been worn several times, and it was wrinkled and tattered.

When I was done, I sent everything back using the pre-addressed bag provided at the bottom of the box.

When I was done, I sent everything back using the pre-addressed bag provided at the bottom of the box.

On its website, Express says that most users get three shipments a month out of the unlimited program. I ultimately got two boxes, as there was some lag time on the shipments.

Ultimately, unless you're an Express super fan, it was unclear to me what the value add was for this type of mono-brand program, given its lack of variety.

Ultimately, unless you're an Express super fan, it was unclear to me what the value add was for this type of mono-brand program, given its lack of variety.

I'd rather just go to the store.

Still, despite being ultimately unimpressed with Express Style Trial, I did end up purchasing two of the items at a significant discount.

Still, despite being ultimately unimpressed with Express Style Trial, I did end up purchasing two of the items at a significant discount.

4. Rebecca Taylor RNTD, $159 for unlimited monthly four-item rental

4. Rebecca Taylor RNTD, $159 for unlimited monthly four-item rental

Rebecca Taylor RNTD had an impressive amount of items, though unfortunately several of the new arrivals weren't available in most sizes.

Rebecca Taylor RNTD had an impressive amount of items, though unfortunately several of the new arrivals weren't available in most sizes.

Similar to Express, Rebecca Taylor requests that you select "priority options" — which you may or may not receive.

Similar to Express, Rebecca Taylor requests that you select "priority options" — which you may or may not receive.

However, unlike Express, I received all of my prioritized items!

Though the box itself was nondescript, it was well-packaged and wrinkle-free.

Though the box itself was nondescript, it was well-packaged and wrinkle-free.

It also came promptly, just a couple days after I submitted my order.

Unfortunately, one of my items was missing a belt.

Unfortunately, one of my items was missing a belt.

All said and done, though, I really enjoyed my selection and wore each of my items.

All said and done, though, I really enjoyed my selection and wore each of my items.

The danger of rental programs: falling in love with an item and then shelling out to keep it. I was very close with this polka dot dress.

3. Vince Unfold, $160 for unlimited monthly four-item rental

3. Vince Unfold, $160 for unlimited monthly four-item rental

I'm not keen on the mono-brand rentals, but Vince is one of my favorites, so I went in a bit biased.

I'm not keen on the mono-brand rentals, but Vince is one of my favorites, so I went in a bit biased.

I had no problem filling up my wishlist and selecting my items.

I had no problem filling up my wishlist and selecting my items.

Generally Vince is a bit above my budget, so it was freeing to select anything and everything I pleased.

I accidentally ordered a very monochromatic box, but I loved all of it and was very tempted to purchase ... everything.

I accidentally ordered a very monochromatic box, but I loved all of it and was very tempted to purchase ... everything.

(I did not.)

While I really enjoyed both Rebecca Taylor RNTD and Vince Unfold, I ultimately found them to be a bit pricey for what they were.

While I really enjoyed both Rebecca Taylor RNTD and Vince Unfold, I ultimately found them to be a bit pricey for what they were.

2. Rent the Runway, $159 for monthly unlimited four-item rental

2. Rent the Runway, $159 for monthly unlimited four-item rental

Rent the Runway is a fan favorite for good reason, and it proved particularly helpful to me this summer, a period when I had multiple events and weddings.

Rent the Runway has an extremely impressive inventory of clothing that spans more than 600 designers.

Rent the Runway has an extremely impressive inventory of clothing that spans more than 600 designers.

Both its website and app are incredibly user-friendly and include specific search terms for any occasion.

For my first order, I selected four summery dresses, in hopes one would work for a friend's wedding.

For my first order, I selected four summery dresses, in hopes one would work for a friend's wedding.

I ended up with one I really loved. However, one of my first dresses was in particularly bad shape ...

I ended up with one I really loved. However, one of my first dresses was in particularly bad shape ...

This Scotch & Soda wrap dress was a hot, wrinkled mess.

Here I am (front row, second from right) at my friend Caroline's wedding in my Rent the Runway dress.

Here I am (front row, second from right) at my friend Caroline's wedding in my Rent the Runway dress.

It was Vince. (Shocking, I know.)

Though I was pleased with my first order, I ran into some issues when I went to return the items.

Though I was pleased with my first order, I ran into some issues when I went to return the items.

Though Rent the Runway recently partnered with WeWork to offer drop-off services at 15 offices in six cities, they have limited hours. In this case, I tried to go to a WeWork in Manhattan's Financial District before work, but unfortunately the drop-off box wasn't open.

Ultimately, I tracked down a local UPS store and went on my way and was only a few minutes late to work.

Ultimately, I tracked down a local UPS store and went on my way and was only a few minutes late to work.

Despite the minor snafus, I found Rent the Runway to be a pretty solid and reliable service.

Despite the minor snafus, I found Rent the Runway to be a pretty solid and reliable service.

1. Nuuly, $88 for six items a month

1. Nuuly, $88 for six items a month

Nuuly made its official debut in July. Unlike its peers, it does not yet offer an unlimited returns option, though its program lends six items as opposed to the average four.

While I can see why the lack of an unlimited option might be a deal breaker, I especially liked it because it helped me be mindful in my selection, and I found significantly more items were available in my size. It also cut down the stress of having to go back and forth to UPS.

Nuuly is a bit more focused on casualwear than Rent the Runway and ultimately more conducive to my lifestyle given that I'm not often dressing for formal occasions.

Nuuly is a bit more focused on casualwear than Rent the Runway and ultimately more conducive to my lifestyle given that I'm not often dressing for formal occasions.

It's also almost half the price, which was a plus.

I also especially enjoyed Nuuly's vintage options, which none of the other rental programs offer.

I also especially enjoyed Nuuly's vintage options, which none of the other rental programs offer.

The Nuuly box is also quite cute and was clearly designed to be Instagrammable.

The Nuuly box is also quite cute and was clearly designed to be Instagrammable.

Nuuly understands the power of unboxing.

The short straps of the bag my order arrived in made it somewhat difficult to tote around, though.

The short straps of the bag my order arrived in made it somewhat difficult to tote around, though.

However, since you stick with your selection for the month, there's not as much hauling back and forth as with the other services. (For me, this was ultimately a pro.)

I also enjoyed Nuuly's overall aesthetic. It felt fresh and different.

I also enjoyed Nuuly's overall aesthetic. It felt fresh and different.

Inside my box, I found this cute mini kit to help with static cling and wrinkles.

Inside my box, I found this cute mini kit to help with static cling and wrinkles.

There was also a tote bag to keep.

There was also a tote bag to keep.

The clothing I selected from Nuuly — a mix of URBN brands like Anthropologie and Free People, as well as some vintage items — were among my favorites from the rental trial.

The clothing I selected from Nuuly — a mix of URBN brands like Anthropologie and Free People, as well as some vintage items — were among my favorites from the rental trial.

I got lots of compliments on this red Free People dress!

Ultimately, I enjoyed my rental experiences, even if I do prefer owning my clothes. Along the way, I was able to experiment with my style in ways I wouldn't have otherwise.

Ultimately, I enjoyed my rental experiences, even if I do prefer owning my clothes. Along the way, I was able to experiment with my style in ways I wouldn't have otherwise.

But if I could choose any of them, it would be Nuuly.

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