12/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Luxury For Rent

It's always been sage advice to buy what you love, but if you can't afford to buy, should you rent instead? Over the last few years a handful of online businesses that rent designer accessories has emerged to bet that the answer to this question is yes. As high-end retailers struggle to navigate the headwinds of America's newfound conservative consumerism, the concept of luxury accessories for rent has found a safe and prosperous niche.

Websites like, and tout a range of products from designer handbags to fancy jewelry that cater to sating a craving for a frugal fashion consumption fix. Items can be rented for a week or months, depending on your budget and desires. Though each site offers its own specific rental structure, their ubiquitous theme is a focus on trend-driven pieces that users enjoy until the next must-have object comes along.

The temporal nature of the luxury concept that these sites are selling is a notable marker of the times. For years, American consumers have been in love with the idea of affordable luxury, so it seems like a natural progression to take it a step further into rentable luxury. After all, it's simply a replication of the celebrity culture we are bombarded with. When do you ever see someone famous wearing the same thing twice in photographs? For many, the meaning of luxury is devolving from the traditional idea of assets into a new idea of experiences.

Avelle cites a client base of over one million people and top-line sales growth at From Bags to Riches was up 57% so far this year, compared with the same period in 2007. Their client base consists of two main types of consumers: aspirational buyers who cannot afford to purchase the products outright and consumers who can afford to buy but want more choices. Enthusiasts of the rental concept promote it as a value driven proposition, an affordable alternative to buying designer goods.

Based on the numbers, it seems like there's definitely a market for luxury rental services. But even though I suppose it's true that we never really own anything, we just borrow it while we are here, I still don't think I will be venturing into renting my fashion accessories anytime soon. There's something that seems so impersonal about it, so brand-driven in the most commercial of ways. I'd rather continue to save and invest in products I really love, that are all mine to enjoy, for however long I've got.