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Can't afford the Cinderella lifestyle? Try renting

If you've always wanted to wear a designer gown and jewelry and make people gawk, a growing number of businesses will indulge even your wildest Cinderella fantasy. You can even rent a flock of paparazzi for the day.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Want to have a Cinderella moment without breaking the bank?

If you've always wanted to wear a designer gown and jewelry and make people gawk, a growing number of businesses will indulge even your wildest Cinderella fantasy.

You'll just be renting, but no one should be seen in the same outfit twice anyway. And you'll be wearing the designers' high-end lines so enjoy the savings. Maybe take it up a notch with a gaggle of paparazzi-for-hire.

"Where luxury had been exclusive, the Internet has made it a commodity," says Dudley Blossom, chairman of the marketing department at LIM College, a fashion school in Manhattan. "This is fundamentally changing the way the average person is accessing luxury."

Here's how to look fabulous and get the attention you deserve, without those pesky glass shoes.

THE GOWN: Forget the reliable little black dress. Renting, you can take big risks because you're not investing as much. Try a new style or a flamboyant color like fuchsia. Just make sure the outfit you choose flatters your particular figure, says Anne Fritz, co-editor of the fashion and travel blog Thejetsetgirls.blogspot.com.

At Renttherunway.com, which launched in November 2009, you'll find the current season's designs from 130 top names, like Vera Wang and Badgley Mischka, outfits that sell for up to $3,500 apiece. The fee of 10 percent to 15 percent of the retail price includes dry cleaning. An extra $5 for insurance means you don't have to worry about staining or tearing the dress. (Just don't lose it, or you'll be on the hook for full price.)When your four days are up — and that's a much better deal than Cinderella got, at least at first — you just slip the dress into the prepaid envelop the company supplies and drop it in the mail.

Renttherunway.com co-founder Jennifer Hyman, recommends setting a start date one or two days before your event or paying extra for an eight-day rental if you need to travel with your gown. She also suggests calling the company's customer service line for advice on styles and fit, and requesting the same dress in a backup size, which is free. Order a second style for $25 to give yourself more options. You can even make like an Oscars hostess and wear both (or all three) at no extra charge.

If $200 to rent a $1,650 Escada gown is still too much, check out the Halston for $75, less than you'd pay at an off-price retailer for a nice get-up with much less cachet. With 25,000 outfits to choose from, the most significant limit is that nothing's bigger than size 12 because designers generally don't make ampler clothes. Hyman said Rentttherunway.com plans to add them when they're available.

THE ACCESSORIES: Lots of sites rent jewelry, handbags and shoes. Both blingyourself.com and bagborrowandsteal.com, recently renamed Avelle.com, offer a broad array. For a fee from $6.55 a month to $60 a year, Avelle.com members can choose from more than 3,000 items to borrow by the week or month.At lifestyleforlease.com, rent up to four pairs of new or gently worn shoes at a time from more than 80 designers, such as Prada and Jimmy Choo. A membership (starting at $3 a month) lets you accumulate points to earn free and lower-price rentals. Prices vary, but renting a pair of $1,000 Christian Louboutin boots for three days runs $145.

Renttherunway.com and other companies offer similar deals.

THE PAPARAZZI: Less affordable but more instantly validating is the kind of posse that materializes with each sighting of Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Aniston or Christian Bale. Offering that experience — including photographers, bodyguards, publicists and a custom-made gossip magazine cover with photos of you — is a site called Celeb4aday.com, which operates in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, Tex.

Packages start at the 30-minute "A List," which includes four photographers and costs $349 in Austin, where prices are lowest among the four cities. There are one-hour "superstar" packages. And at the high end, starting at $1,499.99, you can enjoy the two-hour "megastar" experience, which includes six paparazzi, a publicist, a body guard and a limousine.

In New York, that will set you back $2,999.99, but it's much nicer than a bunch of mice and a giant squash.