Express Style Trial Review: Can you rent your wardrobe?

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How much money do you spend on clothing every year? Would it be cheaper to rent your wardrobe instead? These are questions I asked myself once I started getting Instagram ads for the Express Style Trial clothing rental service, a subscription service that “gives members access to endless styles for one flat monthly fee.” Could this be the answer to my closet and empty wallet blues?

Express Style Trial has clothes for both men and women. The clothing options range from casual to workwear and evening looks. The way it works is once you sign up you get access to all the looks available to you. Once you browse and select your items, they’re saved in your virtual closet where you can prioritize the items you like most. Shipping is free both ways and you can keep the pieces as long as you want. You can also refresh your items with unlimited exchanges and all the dry cleaning is free. There are no commitments and you can cancel anytime. If you love an item you can opt to purchase it and keep it forever. Sounds dreamy, right?

Before I could try it, it needed to make economic sense to me, so I went back to examine my shopping habits. I don’t buy clothes every month. Instead, I tend to buy a batch of clothes at the beginning of Spring/Summer, and then again at the beginning of Fall/Winter. These sprees tend to be in the $200-$300 range. Throughout the year, I may buy the occasional t-shirt or dress for an event, but let’s call that less than $300 for the year. If you add up the max end of those numbers, this comes out to an average of $75 per month. At a cost of $59.95 per month, Express Style Trial comes in at a better deal. My interest was piqued, so I decided to sign up.

First Impressions

Once I registered and got access to the website, I was impressed with the overall look and feel of the website. It was easy to navigate, but once I started to do some power-shopping, there were some major limitations:

PROS

CONS

  • Large, beautiful photography
  • Size and color filter
  • Browse images on mouseover
  • Quick preview option
  • Category pages
  • No Petite, Tall, or Plus sizes
  • Too many basics, neutrals, and solid prints
  • No video
  • Limited sizing information
  • Limited reviews

In order for your first box to ship to you, you must add 8 items to your closet. This wasn’t entirely clear to me when I first started clicking around the website. I don’t know how I missed this vital piece of information but I didn’t know. I only added like 4 items at first because I couldn’t find items I liked in my size. I stepped away for several days and didn’t think about it, one day I was catching up on emails and saw something from Express saying that I needed to add more items to my closet in order for my box to ship. I went back and added items frantically, stuff I didn’t want really, just for the sake of getting the box shipped. But because of this initial mistake, it took my box almost three weeks from sign-up day to get to me. This is mostly my fault but Express could make it clearer to new users by adding more obvious triggers. I know there’s a coat hanger icon in the upper right-hand corner but this could be a more obvious queue, like a module in the right rail that clearly says “Two more items to ship your next box” in bright red font, or something.

My First Box

The clothes arrived in a cardboard box wrapped in tissue paper and accompanied by its return bag with prepaid postage. My first impressions of the clothes were that they smelled like cardboard. This was unfortunate, and I didn’t want to risk washing the clothes myself, so I just had to wear them that way. Another thing, depending on the material of the items you’ve requested, some will arrive extremely wrinkled. This means you’ll have to at least steam or iron the outfits for them to be wearable out. If you’re curious about body odor, or remnants from previous wearers, I’m happy to report this wasn’t an issue. It’s also worth noting that my items didn’t come in one box, they came in two shipments. Not a big deal but it’s disappointing if you’re expecting a specific item and it’s not in that first box.

The clothes themselves are what you would expect from Express. The quality is on par with what you’d find at the retail stores. One thing I noted, the styles that are a part of the Express Style Trial aren’t necessarily the brand new clothes that Express promotes in their newsletters and website. At least, you don’t get those styles right away. Who’s to say you don’t get those styles later down the line, but this is disappointing. I would see certain items getting promoted and I would actively look for them on the Style Trial site, but they weren’t there. It seems like an extremely limited part of the catalog, and it’s unclear how they decide what goes into Style Trial and what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, I also had a challenge with finding the right fit. I followed the guidance of the size charts and two out of the three items were too large. The jumpsuit (below) is the only item that fit decently, but even that wasn’t a home run. As a short person, jumpsuits in general are very hit or miss for me. This one was cute overall but it did cinch at the waist in an odd spot. The dress did not fit at all, it was too loose, too long, and also cinched in a weird spot. The joggers were giant and felt like MC Hammer pants. Maybe that’s the aesthetic and I’m just too old to appreciate it? Very possible. Either way, I couldn’t see myself wearing any of these outfits out in the wild, so I took my loss, returned everything immediately, and ordered a new box.

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My Second Box

Once I knew about the minimum number of items in the closet, I was quick to replenish these so that I could get my second box quicker. From dropping off box #1 at the post office, to getting box #2, it took about a week, which isn’t bad at all. Once again, the shipment didn’t come as one box but as two boxes. So I got two items in one box on Sunday, and then my third item in another box on Monday. Not a huge deal but, again, kinda annoying if you’re planning to wear these clothes for a specific event. You can’t bank on it arriving when you expect it to. This also creates excess cardboard waste.

I was planning on doing another America’s Next Top Model photoshoot with these clothes on, but I’m sitting here recovering from the side effects of the second COVID-19 vaccine, so you’re getting clothes on a hanger instead. 😂 Although I did try all the outfits on and the fits were abysmal. That romper was made for someone with a long torso or tall shoulders. The straps are unadjustable too, which makes it completely unwearable for me. The blouse fit fine and made a nice work shirt for a day but I probably wouldn’t wear it more than once, it was a little boring. The skater dress was too large and, once again, is cinched in a really weird part of my torso. I realize that this is a personal problem.

At the same time, the difficulty in finding an accurate size impacted my enjoyment of the service. I found that, overall, the sizes tend to run large, but most people won’t know this when they’re ordering their first few boxes. Yes, there are size charts on all the clothing pages but the measurements seem wildly inaccurate to me. The romper and the dress are both S and I was swimming in the clothing.

This is the size chart for the romper pictured above. I thought I was running a risk getting the small because the bust size seemed very small for me, but knowing my first box ran large, I ordered the small anyway. When I tried it on, the romper was still giant on me! But I would never think to order an XS or XXS with the sizes listed here.

The Return

With every box, you have the option of buying the clothes and keeping them forever. Once again, I decided to return everything because nothing fit well. I snapped a screenshot of the prices because they seem to fluctuate (daily? weekly?) because when I checked these prices a few days ago they were different.

It’s unclear what decides this pricing. It feels like Express is experimenting here to see what consumers are willing to pay for used clothes. Some of the prices are reasonable. For example, the romper below would’ve cost $8.50 if I wanted to keep it. That’s a great deal! It was of good quality and was still in excellent condition. But $74 for a jersey dress I could get a Forever 21 for $20? NOPE! Interesting stuff.

The return process itself is free and easy. You log into your online account and select the “Return Item” option. You’ll get a few questions about your return and then all you have to do is mail it in. The clothes come packed with a bag with the pre-paid postage already affixed. All you have to do is pack up your clothes and drop them off at the USPS. Easy stuff!

The third box

I was excited about my third box because I was finally getting a couple of items from my “Priorities” list. Once again, I was left with mixed emotions. I was happy with one of the items; the sand-colored sweatshirt was the only thing that truly fit. I was eagerly awaiting the gorgeous satin green midi skirt, but because I was forced to select an XS (my size wasn’t available) it was too tight around the waist and belly. The romper was not flattering, perhaps it was made for a taller person with a very long torso, not me. At this stage, I’d seen enough, and I wasn’t willing to continue the membership hoping the next shipment would be better, I was ready to make a final decision.

In Conclusion

In the end, I decided to cancel the Express Style Trial subscription. It was difficult to find the right fit and without the ability to guarantee priority items, it makes it difficult to plan. To me, that’s the biggest flaw of this service: if I can’t properly fit it into my lifestyle and behavior there’s no hope for long-term adoption. An alternative to the current model might be offering a slightly higher subscription option when you can have more items out at a time, and you can keep them all month and return them back together at the end of the month. This way, you know what you’re getting, you can plan to wear the clothes, and you’re not constantly hunting for new clothes to add to the next box.

I’d like to emphasize that the service isn’t bad. I’m sure there are some people out there that don’t have a problem with the fits or the coming and going of boxes. I could see this being a great option for an influencer or on-camera talent that need to have constantly rotating outfits. The service is also available for men’s clothing and I wonder if they would have more luck with them. I could see some hopeless boyfriend handing over the keys of the account to his girlfriend. Every week he just wears what comes in the box 😆. Another thought is whether marketing the subscription as a gift would get Express farther. I could see a cute Grandma buying a subscription for her granddaughter that just graduated college. I could see this service working for a ton of people, it just wasn’t for me.

There are a couple of refinements that could be made to the service to improve it. Express should consider how other online brands such as ASOS are handling sizing. What I love about ASOS is that they keep track of clothes you buy and return, and they ask you about the sizing so that later they can recommend the perfect size for you. It’s pretty accurate, in the past I’ve ordered from ASOS and trusted them on their recommendation even if I thought I should order a different size, and it’s worked splendidly. I won’t pretend to understand all the mechanics of how they do it, but it’s impressive and works well. ASOS also has videos for a large amount of inventory which can make the difference between buying something and just closing your browser.

Express should also consider shipping their clothes in the return bag and eliminating the cardboard box. This would not only eliminate waste but it would also solve the issue of clothes smelling like cardboard. ASOS has gone a step beyond and they use recycled materials for their bags and the have a sustainability mission to decrease their carbon footprint and recycle more bags.

When it came time to cancel, Express replied promptly and honored my request. You hear so many nightmare stories of people having trouble canceling these sorts of things, but I’m happy to report this wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately, there is no way to cancel your account on the website, you’ll need to call or email them. When I emailed them, I received an email from a customer service representative the next day. I appreciate that they offered me 20% off my next 2 months for staying, but I declined it. They also told me I could pause my account for $5+tax per month and that would allow me to keep the items in my position. They confirmed my final cancellation within another day.

Overall, it was a good experience, the clothes just weren’t for me, but you should give it a try if you’re so inclined!

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