Rent a dress, then return it.
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
A woman's social calendar inevitably includes events that require dressing up. There's the dress to think about, of course, plus matching shoes, a handbag and jewelry too. It's all fun and frivolous until you see the bill. An evening gown can cost hundreds of dollars, even at an affordable department store. Add those essential accessories, and you've got yourself quite the credit card bill. 

Sure, you might look glamorous for an evening, but more often than not, your party garb never sees the light of day again. Even if you do end up wearing that sequin number more than once, chances are you won't wear it often enough to get back what you paid. 

This age-old wardrobe conundrum has inspired a handful of companies to deliver a new solution for the modern woman who wants a shiny new dress to wear for a special occasion, without having to spend a small fortune to do so. The solution: dress rentals. And shoe and handbag and—yes!—even jewelry rentals. 

The concept is simple: Rent a dress of your choosing for a few days, wear it, then return it. Pay a small amount extra for insurance (sometimes included in the price) in case you spill some Merlot on your Marni. It's a captivating concept that's been gaining steam in these tough economic times, especially with the ease of ordering online. Here's a roundup of some of the companies leading the way in the fashion-for-rent game.

Rent the Runway (RenttheRunway.com) 
As the name suggests, Rent the Runway lets customers rent dresses from top-name designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, Hervé Léger and Proenza Schouler. Rentals run $50 to $200 for a four-night loan and are shipped directly to the customer's doorstep.

Wear Today Gone Tomorrow (WearTodayGoneTomorrow.com)
Borrow a beautiful designer dress for 5 to 10 percent of its retail price (with a minimal cleaning free). As part of its environmental commitment, Wear Today Gone Tomorrow uses an organic dry cleaning process as part of its business model, which it calls "recycling designer clothing."

Girl Meets Dress (GirlMeetsDress.com
For residents of the UK, this wallet-friendly service allows you to rent dresses from such designers as Marc Jacobs, Tibi and 3.1 Phillip Lim from £31 a day. Try on your dress before an event at no extra cost.

Avelle (BagBorroworSteal.com)
Formerly Bag, Borrow or Steal, this site went mainstream when it was mentioned in the Sex In the City movie and has been renting authentic designer handbags, accessories, sunglasses, watches and jewelry since 2006. With no limit on the amount of time you can rent, you can keep that Louis Vuitton "it" bag as long as you'd like.

The perks and perils of renting