Finally Reviewing The Ms. Collection

Anyone who has read style posts on this blog knows I love to shop in theory, but find it frustrating in practice.  That's why I am often pursuing online services that have stylists pick out clothes for me.  I have done multiple posts on StitchFix (I have ordered a few boxes since my last review post with varying levels of success) and the now-defunct Keaton Row (I think they ruined their own business model).

My most difficult problem with buying clothes in the past three years has been weight fluctuations.  I joined StitchFix after a major weight loss, but a year later I was gaining again.  Fit issues continued to be an issue with Keaton Row.  I went from a size 8-10 to a size 6-8 to a size 10-12 in a short period of time.  I'm back down to a fairly steady size 10 now, but I'm working on going back to the 6-8 days.  I have had to buy multiple sizes of clothes to accommodate all of these weight fluctuations.  It means I have assorted items of clothing that are too large or too small.  I don't know what I should keep and what I should toss anymore.

I decided my best way to keep my wardrobe fresh would be to rent clothes.  A rental service would provide me with a constant influx of new items and I wouldn't have to commit to any of them.  There is no uncertainty in a rental service.  I don't have to worry if the dress they send will fit me in six months because it will go back in six days and I receive another dress next week.

I had four options for clothing rental services.

Rent the Runway is the most expensive of the bunch.  For a monthly fee I can choose designer items of my choice from their inventory and keep them as long as I need to. 

The main drawback of this service is the price.  The monthly fee is steep.  There is also no guarantee the clothes and accessories I want will be available when I want them.  I would consider this service for a one-time occasion rental, but the subscription doesn't seem worth it even though I know the clothes are fabulous.

Le Tote is the most well known downmarket rental option.  Unlike StitchFix, you have some control over what they send you, although not as much control as Rent the Runway.  With LeTote you can view their inventory and choose items you like, but you may not receive them (but receive similar items). 

I chose not to use this service because I read too many online reviews complaining about the quality of the clothes.  Also, the items users chose often didn't make it into the boxes anyway.

There is also Gwynnie Bee.  This is aimed at plus sized women and seems well-liked around the blogosphere.  It starts at size 10, so I could hypothetically use the service with no fit issues.  I am trying to get below that size range though, so I optimistically decided not to go with this service.

I decided to to with the Ms. Collection.  They have the same fun surprise element as Stitch Fix, carry decent, mid-level brands (the stuff you might find at the malls and department stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Vince Camuto, J. Crew, and Kut from the Kloth), and offer both casual and business options.

When I first decided to subscribe, I looked online everywhere for reviews.  Unlike StitchFix, there aren't many women reviewing the service in the blogosphere.  Many of those reviews are negative with complaints about bad choices and poor quality.  I did manage to find one positive review in the group.  One would think the lack of good reviews would keep me from subscribing, but I was too curious.  I came to the conclusion that there weren't enough reviews out there to know what the service was like without trying it.  On the other hand, the bad reviews of Le Tote were too numerous to ignore.

The Ms. Collection offers three levels of subscription.  They have a "Ms. Play" ($39 per month) collection that provides 3-4 pieces of casual clothing, a "Ms. Business" ($49 per month) collection that provides 4-5 pieces of work clothes, and as "Ms. Combo" ($113 per month) that includes 6-7 pieces from both collections.  It also includes accessories like scarves, bags, and jewelry if you indicate in your profile you are interested in receiving these.

I started with the Ms. Business pack, but this spring I decided to upgrade to Ms. Combo.

After these many months of subscribing, I have mixed feelings.

I do believe the stylists pay attention to feedback.  One time they sent a blouse that I thought was cute, but was too see-through and too large.  Two packs later I received it again in a smaller size and with a camisole to wear under it.  They have never neglected to send a camisole with sheer blouses since then.  Another time they sent a top I loved in February that I thought was not seasonally appropriate and wouldn't look good layered under a sweater or jacket.  I asked if I could revisit it in the spring.  I received it again in April.  If I say I like a piece, but it was the wrong size, they will sometimes send something similar in a different size.

In general there is always at least one piece in every pack I can wear.  This is an improvement over StitchFix where I have sent back boxes that have had nothing useful in them.

Here is a recent box they sent.

The stylists have a good general feel for my style. They know I like strong colors and floral prints.

In this pack I was only able to wear the burgundy top, the floral top, and the yellow top.  The yellow top was the only thing that fit me really well.  That's too bad because I don't like yellow. I have indicated this in my profile, but sometimes they slip a yellow piece in a pack.

I loved the tropical dress, but it was huge and hung like a sack on me.  The pants were way oversized.  The chambray dress made me look like a toddler wearing one of Daddy's shirts.

Thanks to my love of personal style blogs (I should address those in another post), I considered ways I could get creative with the chambray dress.  I thought I could wear it open as a duster.  It would have been a nice idea, but I wouldn't want to wear a chambray duster in July.  The stylists don't always pay attention to weather in their choices.

After receiving this particular pack, I realized I had lost some significant weight.  I congratulated myself and adjusted the sizes on my profile.  The clothes are fitting me better now.

There are times I will receive a box that is boring and too much like previous boxes.  I will vow to end the service after one more box.  Then the next box will be filled with perfect clothes and I will decide to keep subscribing.

The turnaround time on the packs can be slow.  If you wear everything once, you might have the pack a week.  If you want to wear some items two or three times, you are stuck with the pack for longer.  You need to give it a week to mail the pack back and then wait another week for them to style another pack and send it out to you.  I average two packs a month.  That means I have to make sure there are enough clothes in my closet to wear between packs.

The other drawback of the service is you can't rent one item and send everything back.  I loved a skirt in my last pack and wanted to wear it multiple times, but the other stuff I was happy to wear just once or not at all.  I couldn't hold on to the skirt and send everything else back.  You have to rent the entire pack and send back the entire pack at once.  If I sent back everything in the pack but the skirt, they would have charged me to buy the skirt.

There is an option to buy any piece you love at a discount (it's used clothing after all).  I rarely buy anything from my packs because the whole point of using this service is I don't want to commit too much to my closet while I'm still losing weight.

I have been happy enough with the service to say I will hold on to the subscription until I lose 20 pounds.  I am about 5 pounds above that right now, so at the pace I lose weight, I expect to be subscribing another three or four months.  It has been useful.  I am constantly injecting a bit of freshness into my closet and I love the anticipation of a new box.  It's more environmentally sound to rent clothes instead of buy them as well.

I don't know if I would say outright I recommend the service.  It has its drawbacks and its advantages.    I can only say if you are considering it, to take a chance and find out for yourself.


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