Wardrobing exposed: are you guilty of 'renting' clothes from stores for special occasions?

Wear now. Return later
Wear now. Return later

You may or may not have heard of the term 'wardrobing'. The word is used to describe the act of buying an outfit or an item of clothing, wearing it and then returning it after you have worn it - either for a full cash refund or an item/s you feel would be more practical to repeat over time.

It's a form of return fraud, however, this article will only tackle how the fashion industry is responding to it rather than its legal implications as it is an act that can, in fact, be prosecuted

According to Certilogo, return fraud cost the retail industry roughly $9.6 billion in 2017, highlighting that wardrobing results in "retailers losing millions of dollars every year when they are forced to discount an item that has clearly been worn."

This is not a new phenomenon; hence a lot of people do it, and it continues to be a rising trend - one which most fashion brands are struggling with how to handle. 

Speaking of how to handle, in the article mentioned above they say that "one of the repercussions of retail fraud is that stores and luxury brands are forced to create stricter return policies, with the unintended consequence of infuriating loyal consumers". 

READ MORE: Zara finally launches online shopping for their SA fashion enthusiasts - here's everything you need to know 

A 2013 Telegraph article by Josephine Fairley, condemning the wardrobing habit (perhaps a bit too harshly), revealed that one in six women have admitted to 'wardrobing'. Josephine explains that the consumer editor at VoucherCodes.co.uk who carried out the survey into this practice revealed that one in 20 wardrobers usually give the item they're returning a spritz of air freshener before claiming the refund. They also look for tags which are attached by safety pins for easier removal and re-attaching. 

In the world of curated social media feeds and back-to-back media events, one might become weary of repeating outfits for fear of compromising their street cred with online strangers, but who cares?

Well, some women don't want to be known as "the girl that's always wearing that blazer," but in such instances the usual approach is to just style your separates differently to create a fresh look. 

Like Tracee Ellis Ross said in an interview last year; "expensive clothes are actually an investment so it makes sense to wear an outfit that you’ve spent a lot of money as often as you can".

READ MORE: "If a princess like Kate Middleton can re-wear her clothes, I think we all can!" - Tracee Ellis Ross 

Even so, there are some of those style enthusiasts with generous budgets who would much rather go shopping every time they have to attend a special occasion. Taking this fact into consideration, it would therefore appear that we've allowed a certain culture to persist - one that deems repeating clothes - and posting them on social media when you do repeat - criminal. So much so that those who can't necessarily afford to shop for keeps for every occasion, have folded to this pressure and therefore dabble in wardrobing. 

Of course, there are so many other solutions besides committing return fraud. 

Anyway, last year I found myself splurging on a dress for the Sun Met, not knowing where else I would wear a frock of that dramatic nature thereafter, and thus found myself lamenting how much it dented my wallet. I mentioned this in passing to an industry mutual while at the Met and they said - without flinching - "just return it after!" 

Of course, I was taken aback by this advice, but not completely bewildered because I've always been aware that people do this. I didn't heed that advice to return it (obvs), but it was such a long time before I wore that dress again that every time I got broke I would think of all the money I regretted spending on it.

But now that I've pulled a Tiffany Haddish and worn it three times, I no longer regret it. 

However, for some people, spending money on something only to wear it once (or even three times) just doesn't seem practical. 

I suppose this is why an international brand like DIESEL just introduced its new global campaign called “Enjoy Before Returning”: a playful, nonconformist stance on this controversial topic.

Rather than condemning wardrobing, the brand comes to terms with it. If shoppers are going to buy, wear and return an item anyway, why not fully enjoy it in the process? 

wardrobing and return policies

Images: Supplied

In this DIESEL campaign shot by Angelo Pennetta, wardrobers are seen wearing DIESEL’s new collection, along with watches and eyewear products. All of the items — including separate watch still-life visuals shot by the photographer Roberto Badin share the common thread of “wearing the tag out”. The video is a display of an ironic play, all these scenes happen while a voiceover recites an excerpt of DIESEL’s return policy. 

The point?

DIESEL does not condone the act, but will not hold it against you. 

But how do other fashion brands and retail outlets feel about this? 

Well, Levi's stores don't do cash refunds if the customer paid cash - you can only do an exchange. If you paid by card, they cannot give you cash in hand (like Zara or MRP, for example) - they return it strictly to your account over five to seven business days. 

Seems rather inconvenient, right? 

But it is one of the preventative measures several retail stores are taking against return fraud, and we can't really blame them. 

Another fave retailer, H&M, allows exchange or returns within 30 days with the original receipt and price tags in place, with the disclaimer that they do not allow returns or exchange of underwear bottoms, pierced earrings or swimwear, while Zara reiterated their returns policy as follows when we reached out to them:


I'm not endorsing wardrobing, but I mean, with a 30-day grace period (most fashion stores operate on this time frame) to return an item, you have more than enough time to rock your look, collect your likes on Insta, and dry clean your outfit before returning it.

I guess drip is temporary after all. 

So are you guilty of 'renting' clothes for special occasions? (This is an anonymous poll) 

Sign up for W24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
22% - 683 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
9% - 282 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
50% - 1564 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 40 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 559 votes