Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer. This is his column for Esquire.
I’M GOING TO THE ARIAs next week. The less questions asked about this, the better. The annual awards ceremony that has given national exposure to hundreds of artists (quite literally in the cases of Kirin J Callinan and Axle Whitehead) is upon us once more, and I genuinely have nothing to wear.
This is not a new predicament for me. In case my weekly missives have not made it clear, I am a writer who primarily works from home. I bash out words in gym shorts and hoodies, occasionally in jeans. The most remarkable pieces of clothing I own frequently live on my feet. Come to think of it, the last time I wore something properly formal was to my own wedding, which incidentally had a televised audience on Zoom, albeit not one in the hundreds of thousands.
None of this helps the fact that in under a week, I need to somehow find a way to look a million bucks on a red carpet, without necessarily spending it. As per the wedding suit (Sandro, forest green, cropped leg, off the rack at Selfridges), if I’m going to outlay on new formalwear, it has to last a while. This is the antithesis of dressing for the ARIAs, where the unofficial dress code is something outrageously ostentatious. It looks great in the moment, but I will undoubtedly look back in years to come and cringe. The kit I need is not gear engineered for longevity, which is an extremely sound reason not to own it.
Since the explosion of Rent The Runway in the mid noughties, which inspired a slew of imitators all pitched at helping women grab a fancy frock without puncturing their bank balances, clothing rental has become big business. In recent years, the boom has spawned a world of peer-to-peer platforms with fun names like Nuuly, Hurr and By Rotation, as well as local companies like DressHire, Volte and RNTER. I know this firsthand as my brother’s wife, Mari, is a remote-working nomad who frequently travels the globe with only carry-on luggage, showing up to weddings and gala dinners in rented designer duds. My brother, on the other hand, is not always so lucky.
That’s fair enough; none of the above services cater to men.
In my frenzied research to try and find a fun pair of trousers or loud shirt to build out my ARIAs wardrobe, it’s become glaringly apparent to me that while renting clothes is par for the course for many women, it’s just not really the done thing for guys. At least not in Australia, where our pesky market size is probably the reason we haven’t had a few chancers trying to make it happen, like they have in the US. Also, the fact Aussie guys seem to prefer the safety blanket of social uniforms to pushing the sartorial boat out could have something to do with it.
Having looked through most of these overseas services, I’ve noticed the overwhelming majority of them traffic in the predictable; plain chinos and light blue oxfords, bombers in safe colours and boring suits. Many also come with a personal stylist, (Taelor’s uses AI—sure) which shows how little they think of our ability to dress ourselves. The few exciting start-ups, like New York-based SEASONS, have already closed up shop.
Whether I’m unwittingly letting loyal readers in on a potential business opportunity remains to be seen. Australia has no shortage of brilliant designers and forward-thinking fashion, from Haulier to Song For the Mute, but not everyone has reason or means to dress in their wares every day. In addition to being good for your wallet, circular fashion is great for the planet. Taking waste and unworn clothes out of the supply chain helps everyone from factory workers to the denizens of the ocean. It’s something women have embraced with zeal, with the market for rented duds set to eclipse $2 billion by 2030.
It’s unclear whether men aren’t considered a target, or whether we’re just disinterested in buying stuff we can’t keep. Either way, when it comes to next Wednesday, I’m completely stuffed. I could go to my local vintage emporium, but I’m really rolling the dice on finding something that fits and doesn’t smell overwhelmingly like 1974.
So what’s going to happen is I’m going to rush over to Gucci or Balenciaga and buy some silk number for an outrageous sum that I’ll probably wear once again–if ever. In about six months, it’ll attract mould from sitting unloved in the back of my wardrobe and I’ll have to bin it, or re-gift as a hand-me-down. Or else I’ll try and make do with what’s already in my closet, something dated that will hopefully pass muster with the cool kids, given the options for renting something fit for the occasion as a man in this country are so limited.
Actually, if you google ‘men’s clothing hire’, most of the results are for places trying to shill stuffy old tuxedos. Come to think of it, that could be cool?
Jonathan Seidler is an Esquire columnist and the author of It’s A Shame About Ray (Allen & Unwin).
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see every one of Jonno’s columns for Esquire here.