Are subscription boxes worth it? Read my review
Every time I check Facebook it seems there’s a new clothing subscription box service offering to make me look fabulous in the comfort of my own home. As someone who doesn’t dislike shopping (given that I write a fashion blog that’s probably self-evident) and who generally has more time available than the average 9-5er/mother of small kids/other busy person, I've never felt the need to use their services.
But as the number of these purveyors grows and I hear more friends making positive noises about them, I decided to look into it. All for your benefit, dear reader.
For the uninitiated, clothing subscription boxes involve you signing up for an account, answering numerous questions about your style, size, budget, what sort of pieces you’d like to receive and how often, then - boom! - new clothes land on your mat.
Some services send you a preview of your box and you can accept or swap out pieces, others just truly surprise you with their parcel. You then have a certain number of days to try on and decide whether to keep some or all of the clothes sent to you. At that stage you’re charged for what you keep.
Return shipping is usually free and fairly convenient once you’ve informed them what you’re keeping and returning. Some services charge a styling fee which is payable if you return all the items, or deductible from the cost of the clothes if you buy one or more piece.
That about sums it up.
I decided to try a relative cross-section of services available. Here’s my verdict…
Stitchfix is one of the original subscription box services and possibly the best known. Founded in 2011, it’s spreading across the globe and plans to launch in the U.K. by the end of 2019.
In my “fix” I received a pair of ankle-crop skinny jeans ($55), a dark green top with cut out back detail ($34), a grey sheer hooded cardigan ($44), a blue and white stripe tie-front shirt ($42) and a double bar rose gold necklace ($28). They also include a cute fold-out card showing some suggested outfits for your pieces (helpful, but also good marketing).
Stitchfix offers a 25% discount if you buy everything in your box. They also credit a $20 styling fee towards your purchases (or charge you $20 if you return everything).
Amazingly, the jeans fit really well. That is no mean feat given that I regularly fail to find fitting denim in shops which I know well and where I can try them on to my heart’s content (or misery, more accurately). I also loved the tie front shirt which looked great with the jeans and which I probably would not have picked off the rack myself. I can see it being a real summer staple.
The dark green top looked pretty shapeless on me. I don’t generally go for backless/strappy backs and, while it’s good to try something new, this is not going to be the time I break from my backless rule. Just too…meh.
Re the cardi-hoodie hybrid: I really don’t know where they got the idea that I would like it. It’s not my style at all (in a bad way) and looked very lived in (ditto). Needless to say it’s going back pronto.
I’m sure I answered questions about jewelry and probably did say I liked rose gold. But this piece doesn’t do it for me. I’m blaming the ubiquity of that metal and color over the last few years - I’m sick of it.
So I learned lesson number 1 of the subscriptions service: garbage in, garbage out. Well, not quite garbage, but if you say you quite like something, don’t blame them when they send it to you. Take your time over the questions and really think about what you’d like to receive.
Stitchfix Verdict: I got 4 pieces of clothing and a necklace. I’m keeping and really like 2 items which will cost me $77 plus tax after my styling fee credit. Not a bad price or success rate, especially considering they got the jeans right.
My “fix” was also nicely packaged in a pretty box with tissue paper and felt like a treat (though it’s all packaging to dispose of…)
It’s worth noting that Stitchfix got some really good feedback from my friends who have used it repeatedly and one gave a really good tip: send your regular Stitchfix stylist a Pinterest board of ideas and things you love. She’s had great success doing that.
One thing that nearly caused me a problem was this: you only have 3 days to try on your goodies and decide whether to return them or not. To be fair, they are clear about that in the paperwork that comes with the box, but who’s reading that when there’s clothes to try on? A few hours later and I’d have been charged for the whole lot. The other services give you 7 days which seems more reasonable.
Frank & Oak
Frank & Oak is based in Montreal, Canada and also has brick and mortar stores north of the border (plus a “traditional” online store). It’s one of the few sustainable clothing subscription box services I’ve come across and so I wanted to test out its “style plan”.
Frank & Oak’s approach to questioning customers on their style and size was very similar to Stitchfix and they seem to use the same software. They do, however, send you a preview of the pieces picked out for you before you send them, so you can say yea or nay before mailing. I changed one of the pieces they offered and kept two (in the interests of thinking outside the box, so to speak).
The service was slick and delivery quick - within a couple of days of me confirming my selection. Unfortunately the service is only available to Canadian and U.S. residents at the moment.
I received some cute rust colored loafers ($130), a plain khaki t-shirt ($23.50) and a denim jumpsuit ($100).
I was almost grateful that the shoes didn’t fit (too small, despite supposedly being in my size) as I liked them a lot - I’m a sucker for summer shoes that cover my toes, as regular readers will know.
The jumpsuit was cute. I liked that it could be worn with or without a tee or shirt underneath, but the heaviness of the material (usually a good thing, but not in summer) and the cut just weren’t perfect enough for me to part with one hundred big ones.
The t-shirt was nicely made and an interesting color (I want to say baby poop, but obviously I’m too mature for that). I do think it would be useful and something I would not have chosen myself.
Frank & Oak charges a $25 styling fee if all pieces are returned, so it made sense for me to hang on to the t-shirt (official color: “Flaxen Yellow”) rather than pay $25 for nothing. Not nothing, but you know what I mean.
Frank & Oak Verdict: I wouldn’t normally pay $25 for a t-shirt, but this is a good quality and ethically produced. I did like the other pieces - if they had fit perfectly I’d have struggled to return them.
If you’re OK with paying a little more you’ll get some cool, trend-savvy pieces from Frank & Oak and be left with a clear conscience that everything was sustainably made.
Note that Frank & Oak has a different approach to payment - your card is charged when the box is shipped, then you’re refunded whatever you don’t keep. Again, they’re pretty quick about it, but you might prefer to only pay when you’ve made your decision.
This is a new service that Amazon has started offering to Prime customers (at least here in the U.S.; I’m sure if it works it will be rolled out to the UK and beyond soon). It appears to be the Amazon Wardrobe (“try before you buy”) service rolled out last year and rebranded or expanded, but I couldn’t get a clear answer on that.
As we know, if something is working it’s Amazon’s forte to improve on it and make it cheaper. There are obviously positives to that for us consumers who get things cheaper, but it can strangle competition and disadvantage everyone in the long run. Let’s see how this plays out in the subscription clothing world.
My experience of buying clothes on Amazon generally has not been great - I find things tend to look as cheap as they are and it’s not always as on-trend as it might be. So I signed up for this service with some trepidation.
The information gathering portion was actually very impressive. It took a different approach to the other two services and was more visual (providing photographs of models wearing certain styles for you to like or not), which made it easier.
Like Frank & Oak, Amazon Stylist allows you to preview the pieces selected and approve or reject. I only OK’d two of the pieces suggested - some straight leg ankle-crop jeans ($34) and a long sleeve print blouse ($29).
This service - surprisingly - took the longest to deliver (a week longer than Frank & Oak). Maybe they’ll streamline it as they develop and offer it to more customers. And they might want to throw in some prettification (if that’s a word), as it was just like receiving any old Amazon package
Once again, I hit denim pay dirt and really liked the fit of the jeans. The patches I’m not as sure about, but they’re so goddam comfy and reasonable in price that they might have just earned a place in my closet.
The dusty pink print blouse was pretty, but not really my jam (especially not for $29). I felt I could find something just as nice in my local thrift store for a quarter of the price. A good try by the stylist though.
Returning the blouse was very easy and convenient - head to the Amazon App and My Orders, hit “return” or “keep” and drop the returns bag back at UPS. If you care about your printer ink (you should, that stuff is more expensive per ounce than gold, probably), Amazon and Stitchfix provide a return address label, only with Frank & Oak did I have to print my own.
Amazon Verdict: as usual, the price and convenience of Amazon makes this a strong contender, but they’ll need to speed up delivery times, especially for those of us used to next day Prime delivery. Yes, I’m aware I sound like a spoiled brat.
So, overall, are clothing subscription boxes worth it?
I was pleasantly surprised by most of what I was sent and getting the boxes was a little like Christmas-morning! I tried a couple of things I wouldn’t have otherwise and saw that these guys and gals have really made the process pretty slick.
In my view, these services really come into their own for people who hate to shop, don’t have time, or are in a style rut and want to branch out.
If you’re a happy shopper and have time to look around, it’s probably not worth the (admittedly fairly minor) hassle of previewing, approving, trying and returning your order (on time!). And depending on how often you sign up for boxes, you’ll need to skip or proceed each time. Again, this is easy and they email you to remind you, but if you’re not great at checking emails, you could end up with stuff you don’t want (obviously they hope you’ll fall in love and keep the items regardless).
Obviously there was a limit to how many of these services I could sign up for (for the sake of my bank balance), so this can’t be said to be an exhaustive review of them all, but hopefully it’s given an overview of the most popular name in the game, a sustainable service and a newish kid on the block.
Here are some others you might want to check out, plus some U.K. options:
Dia & Co (U.S.)
A very cool plus size (sizes 14-32) service. Only available in the U.S. unfortunately.
Nordstrom Trunk Club (U.S.)
Has sizes from sizes XS to 3X. It’s well established and some of my friends are fans.
This appears to be the best option for U.K. residents until Stitchfix launches. It’s similar to Stitchfix in style and price point and gets some good reviews online.
Style Lyrical (U.K.)
Another U.K. based service which appears to have some great pieces, but at a significantly higher price. Style Lyrical sources high quality pieces from non high street luxury brands from the U.K., the Netherlands and Denmark.
Let me know your thoughts on the pros and cons of clothing subscription boxes, and your favorite services.