Your online closet

Sometimes, the perfect dress sits just outside of your budget. The color, the style, the cut — it’s everything you have been searching for, but the price is not justified by the one night you will actually wear it. With a new websites, however, you can wear this dream dress at a reasonable cost.

How to · Because of her company’s relatively new concept, The Stylist LA owner Emily McDonald brings a “How it Works” sign to trunk shows. - Photos courtesy of Emily McDonald

Websites such as and began the dress-rental craze last year by offering the glamour of designer dresses at a fraction of the cost. After the customer browses a virtual closet and chooses a dress, the websites mail the purchase. The customer then wears the dress and mails it back within the allotted time.

While these companies are both New York-based, USC alumna Emily McDonald — who graduated in 2007 — has founded her own high-end dress rental company a little closer to home, The Stylist LA.

From Karina Gramaldi’s bright and memorable wearables to the Alice + Olivia, LaROK and Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent dresses women crave, customers can sort through The Stylist LA’s growing collection and find the right outfit for any event.

“I try to choose dresses that people would only wear once if they owned it,” McDonald said.

Though many customers are drawn to the service by its unique selection of designer gowns, McDonald’s greatest selling point is personalized service.

“Borrowing off the Internet is iffy,” she said of dress rental companies solely based online. “With other sites, you could order a dress that doesn’t fit right, but I come to you and make sure you get the best fitting dress.”

For as little as $30, McDonald will play the role of personal stylist, using her fashion knowledge to help her customers find the best look for whatever occasion. She has an eye for matching body types with the most flattering dresses and brings a car full of options to every session.

Being a personal shopper for each of her customers might sound like a lot for one woman, but styling is hardly work for McDonald, who says she has fun everyday.

“My goal is to be the Rachel Zoe for ordinary people,” McDonald said. “I would drive across Los Angeles at 9 p.m. on a Friday night if someone needed a dress last minute.”

McDonald refined her business as a student in the Marshall School of Business where she wrote the company’s first plans for an entrepreneurship class her senior year. But before she enacted her business proposal, she did some background research, spending a year at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising studying product development and working briefly for Yael Aflalo, a leading L.A. designer. It was while she aided Aflalo during the closing of her label that McDonald decided to rewrite her business plan.

Believing in her dream and passion, family friends invested in McDonald’s company, and despite the recession’s negative effects on other facets of the fashioin industry, her website is still growing.

McDonald kicked off The Stylist LA’s first season last August with a trunk show at the Radisson Hotel adjacent to campus. She invited incoming female USC students, many of whom ended up renting dresses for sorority recruitment events.

With the success of marketing to USC’s female population, McDonald plans to expand her showings to other local colleges, including UCLA, Loyola Marymount and Cal State Long Beach. Eventually, her goal is to expand the business to high school proms and formals.

Though she sees a potential market from students, however, McDonald said post-college women in their mid-twenties could also benefit from the service. Parties and social events often fill the agendas of today’s young female urbanites, and the need for a different dress for each one has become increasingly crucial to maintain one’s image. This seemingly frivolous need can leave holes in budgets if one isn’t careful, but utilizing a dress-rental service can provide the image one wants with a price one can afford.

McDonald said she is excited to see her dream becoming reality. Though she currently only serves customers in Southern California, she hopes to one day expand to more areas — but only if she can find people to help her maintain the company’s strict customer service standards.

“I am going to take it slow for now,” McDonald said. “I don’t want to outgrow my own reach.”

1 reply
  1. Katherine Carlson
    Katherine Carlson says:

    I have used The Stylist LA to rent dresses on two occasions. Emily helped me pick great dresses that everyone complimented. I love this company and would recommend it to anyone!

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