It starts early, maybe eighth grade. The gender divide grows deep and wide when it comes to this: party clothes.
In the 27 years since the first date with my husband, I've never once heard him say, "But the boys have already seen this tie. I need to go shopping." But there it is. From the first eighth-grade dance to this New Year's Eve, my female brethren do not want to reprise a party dress. It may fit like a glove and have garnered the mother lode of compliments, but it has been done.
With the 31st around the corner and holiday credit card calisthenics causing fresh pain, there are ways of nabbing the perfect New Year's Eve outfit that won't set you back.
First, why buy what you can rent? The biggie in dress rentals is RentTheRunway.com, which works like Netflix, only a dress from one of 95 designers (wedding, black tie, prom, date night) ends up in your mailbox. I can hear the objections already: But what about fit? Designers, especially the fancy ones, all size differently.
Lending Luxury (2102 W Platt St., Tampa, toll-free 1-800-403-9848, lendingluxury.com) solves that by offering rentals along with a fitting room (open Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and other weekdays by appointment). Sarah Jon Porreca and Jennifer Rosen started the business in August 2010 with, as Rosen remembers it, that one simple question: "Wouldn't it be really cool to rent a dress if you're only going to wear it once?"
Most dresses at Lending Luxury rent from $50 to $110, and the rental price includes the dress delivered to your door, clean and ready to wear. You keep it for five days (or add five more days for $25 — not a bad idea if you're going on a cruise where fancy dress is in order). Then, after your big night, pop it in the box and return it (return shipping and dry cleaning is included).
On the website you can sort by rental price, size, color, long or short, designer or occasion (from "baby bump coverage" to "make your ex jealous") and most dress designs are offered in several sizes. The greatest number of sizes hovers in the small zone, but larger women are definitely not shut out of the proceedings, and in terms of styling there seems to be a balance between prom-appropriate and mother-of-the-bride togs.
When looking for the perfect party dress, savvy shoppers know to check the clearance racks at bridal stores for bride's maid dresses. Try Olga's or David's Bridal in Tampa, or the Dressing Room in St. Petersburg (which right now has silk dresses as low as $50 to make room for new styles). But another option is upscale consignment.
Agape Chic Boutique (151 E Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon, (813) 571-7870, agapechicboutique.com) is the brainchild of Stacy Regan, a CPA by trade.
She and business partner Dena Ham figured that in a poor economy, consignment is good business. They specialize in higher-end "mall brands" of women's clothes only, all of it in styles from the past two years. From handbags, shoes and accessories to career clothes, casuals and holiday party dresses, items are priced at approximately 40 percent of retail. You'll find brands like Bebe, Ann Taylor and Betsey Johnson and, as Regan notes, "We have some really nice party dresses you can get for $19."
And now for accessories: Couture Closet (by appointment only, (813) 374-0773; coutureclosettampa.com) really specializes in renting wedding dresses. Owned by Jessica Vasquez and partner Christi Winsor (a wedding planner in the area), the business also rents wedding accessories which, if you think about it, look pretty much like party dress accessories: diamonds, crystal, pearls, silver and gold baubles, loads of dramatic necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and a range of headpieces, from tiaras to delicate feathered doodads. The full lineup is photographed on the website, and a three- or four-day rental runs anywhere from $10 to $25, plus a deposit.
What are we missing? To really feel like Cinderella at the ball, we must turn our attention to footwear. Sunny Paige recently opened Couture Shoez (4025 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, (813) 546-0382), holding a grand opening party on Nov. 29 that benefited Voices for Children. I attended the event, lingering over the Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Guesippi Zanotti and other brands that are ordinarily way out of my reach.
The shop is a mix of new and gently used high-end designers, but prices can still creep close to $200. I nabbed a pair of work-appropriate brown-and-black spectator pumps and oh-so-Carrie-Bradshaw pink-and-green Pazzo slingbacks. Total expenditure? $80. For the perfect holiday dress, a nearly new pair of Pradas or Louis Vuittons may be just the thing, and Couture Shoez carries handbags as well. In it you can keep all the receipts that prove what a genius shopper you were for this New Year's Eve.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow her on Twitter, @lreiley.