A gala at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is full of glamorous women in elegant clothes. But can you tell who actually owns their dresses? Of course not. That's why a growing number of women are renting rather than buying.
"You have an event coming up and you don't feel like spending $1,500 on a ball gown," said Rent the Runway customer Andrea Marquis. "You can easily shop by size, by style, by brand."
Prices on Rent the Runway range from $50-$400 for a four day rental.
Nina Qi chose a Nicole Miller dress. It retails for $1,000 and rents for $150. You get two sizes of the dress. For an extra $25 you can get a backup dress in a different style.
The site features photos of real-life customers wearing their rented gowns. Some even provide their body measurements. That helped Marquis decide on a David Meister dress, "It actually fits me and is flattering and kind of accentuates the body parts I'm comfortable with and hides the ones I'm not so fond of," she said.
The dress sells for $600 and costs $100 to rent.
Bailey Douglass is a hardcore renter, with Facebook photos full of dresses to die for. She's also the daughter of an ABC7 News producer, "I've rented about 56 dresses in the last year and a half," she said.
Douglass loves Rent the Runway, but it's not perfect every time. On this occasion she rented her first choice dress and a backup. She should have received two sizes of each dress. But she got a call saying the second size was not available in either style. Instead she got four different dresses. Her first choice was too big. Another was too short. One arrived without the belt. But the backup dress worked.
"You always wind up with a dress to wear," Douglass said. "It just might not be the dress you thought you were going to wear."
If that kind of uncertainty makes you nervous, you might want to try a rental shop in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood. It's called "Dress: Luxury Attire on Loan."
"When you are able to come in here, we are able to talk it through," store owner JaiHonna German said. "We are able to give you maybe some different styles that you hadn't even considered."
The producer of the movie "Brave" was wearing a rental dress from the shop when she won a Golden Globe a few weeks ago.
The shop's selection is not as big as Rent the Runway's, but there are hundreds of high-end dresses, and you can try them on in advance.
Aspiring model Clara Di Bartolo has rented three dresses here, "I found that many dresses can look a certain way on line, and then not on my body," she said.
Prices are similar to Rent the Runway, but there's no shipping fee and no need to rent a backup dress. The dress shop includes insurance for minor spills and damage. Rent the Runway charges $5 for that. Both services include dry cleaning, but you still have to be careful.
"If you go out and act like you have a night from Vegas and there's a hole in the middle of the dress, then we can charge up to 80 percent of the retail value," German said.
One more note of caution -- renting a designer gown is definitely cheaper than buying, but only if you do it in moderation.
"I probably have spent a lot more money on dresses since Rent the Runway makes it so convenient and fun," Douglass said.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney