I grew up in Hong Kong, where pretty much all brides rent their wedding dresses. I attribute this phenomenon to two things: First, it's customary for brides to change at least three times during the course of the wedding banquet, and buying a wedding gown in addition to two other formal dresses is quite an expensive proposition. Second, people tend to live in tiny apartments with not very much closet space, so it doesn't make sense for brides to keep their gowns post-wedding.
As a result, bridal boutiques in Hong Kong usually have special deals where you can rent a Chinese qi pao, a "western" bridal gown, and one or two additional formal gowns for a "special" price (we in Hong Kong are really into "special prices"!) -- usually a fraction of what it costs to buy one gown here in the U.S. Brides willing to shell out the big bucks usually pay extra for "first wear rights," which means they get to be the first wearer of a particular gown, but on balance, people generally don't feel weird wearing a "used" gown.
This system sounds great in theory, but it's not so fab when the gowns often look like they were designed by a six-year-old girl with a passion for glitter puffy paint and a My Little Pony color palette:
Mrs. Pinot Noir has posted about the difficulty she experienced finding gowns for rent here in the States. The other day, though, I came across a relatively new boutique in NY that rents high-end, in-season designer gowns for those of us with a budget more Target than Saks. The boutique is called Ilus, and they have all of their gowns up on their website. While they don't have any "wedding gowns," they do have a few dresses that could function quite beautifully as such, such as this goddessy Marc Bouwer:
The gown isn't cheap: $145 for a three-night rental (+ $10 cleaning fee), but it retails for close to $1000 at Saks, so I suppose one could consider it a deal. How about pairing it with this BE & D beaded evening bag, which you can rent for $20 from Bag Borrow or Steal?
A far more fabulous bargain is this Badgley Mischka dress, which would make a chic bridesmaid dress and rents for a mere $10 (+ $10 cleaning fee) :
And you could pair it with the longer version of the gown, which would be great for your MOH:
Weirdly, the long version rents for $185. But I suppose you could think of it as getting two beautiful Badgley Mischka dresses for $190.
So you lucky New York ladies, would you rent a gown for your wedding or next fancypants event?