Why Renting Designer Clothes For Selfies Affects Our Brains


Selfies Are Creating a Multi-Million Dollar Industry

Social media has driven people to do some pretty ridiculous things. But did you know that selfies can actually stimulate the economy? 

So says a fascinating article on Jezebel this past week about clothing rental businesses that are thriving thanks to people who want to wear designer outfits for their Instagram posts. Apparently, wearing what you own in photos is a thing of the past for many.

But is this just a welcome boon to the economy for the fashion industry and web companies, or is there also a dark implication for society and personal worth bubbling underneath all the linen and lace?

From every day outfits to designer gowns, clothing rental sites are popping up everywhere with something for everyone and for every occasion. One of the most popular rental subscription sites is Rent the Runway, founded by Harvard Business School alums Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman, which gives users access to over 50,000 designer dresses valued at about $300 million.

Rent the Runway Founders, Jennifer Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman. Project Quinn

In its five years of operation, Rent the Runway has become a staple for many women who want to wear something chic without breaking the bank. Shoppers can rent dresses in four to eight day increments, with rental prices starting as low as $30 from brands like Z Spoke Zac Posen creeping up to $475 from designers like Carolina Herrera.

So far this year, RTR has rented out over $350 million worth of clothing and accessories, something Forbes partially credits to Millennials. 

"Hyman and Fleiss' idea emerged at the right moment," Forbes writer Steven Bertoni wrote. "Millennials are leading a migration away from ownership to subscription and sharing: Spotify invades our speakers, Netflix our TVs, Uber our curbs, Airbnb our entire homes. Rent the Runway wants to stream your wardrobe."

Clueless predicted the future, people! Paramount Pictures

For Hyman and Fleiss, the popularity of sharing has only helped their business rapidly expand. But, it's not just the idea of sharing that has attracted so many Millennials to their site. Hyman told Forbes that social media is also a huge factor for many shoppers, ultimately influencing the way we dress. 

"It creates pressure for women," Hyman told Forbes. "Now you can't repeat outfits because your friends have seen that outfit on social media. As ridiculous as that sounds, that is what drives our business." 

Renting High Fashion For Instagram?

Investors have also taken note of social media's influence over shoppers' choices, finding companies like RTR are valuable investment decisions based off of today's obsession over instant photo and status sharing. And it's not an entirely recent concept. In 2011, Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers invested $15 million into RTR, seeing a huge opportunity for the company's growth. 

"We didn't back them as a fashion start up," Juliet de Baubigny, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, told Forbes. "It's the sharing economy meets the Facebook-Instagram generation." 

Anyone who says your selfies aren't profitable is wholly incorrect. While I'm thrilled businesses are finding a way to cater to their online audience and provide easily-accessible and affordable clothing options, I can't help but roll my eyes at the thought of people dishing out money for the sole purpose of posting selfies to social media. 

If you're feeling beautiful and want to share it with the world, more power to you. But spending money to rent expensive clothing you could never afford honestly seems sad. Your self-worth isn't linked to the designer you're wearing or to how many "likes" you get on Facebook and Instagram.

The Psychology Of Selfies

Sadly, studies suggest that the affirmation we receive on sites like Tinder and Facebook do affect our dopamine levels. That is, when someone "likes" our photos, our brains release a bunch of feel-good chemicals that ultimately make us feel more important and valued

According to the LA Times, a study by the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience "suggests that people may be driven to use Facebook by a desire to monitor their reputation." So, not only are we seeking affirmation, we also seem to be measuring our worth based off of other people's Facebook interactions. 

"You post something and then wait for a positive social feedback in the form of likes and comment," neurologist Dar Meshi of the Free University of Berlin told the LA Times. "And if you get likes, it demonstrates that people think highly of you, which is equivalent to reputation."

The LA Times also noted that "the predictive value of the brain scans was highest for personal reputation gain relative to the gains of others." 

So, if another user got 100 likes on a photo of themselves wearing an exquisite gown, we're more likely to feel jealous and less valuable. Therefore, we'll be more likely to rent or buy an expensive dress, snap a few photos, upload to social media, and monitor just how many likes we can garner. The more likes, the higher our self-esteem rises. And if we surpass another user's likes, we're going to feel weirdly proud of ourselves. 

Who needs a family, job, or goals when you've got this?

With study findings in mind, it makes more sense why people would dish out money on rental clothing in order to feel better about themselves. But by taking a step back, it's easy to see that we're just creating more problems for ourselves by relying on haut couture for our dopamine fix. 

So, go ahead and live your life without worrying about what you're wearing in your Instagram photos. You might find that life is more enjoyable when it isn't centered around taking pictures of yourself. Besides, no one can see your clothing tag anyway.