Whether you're a casual style observer or fervent fashionista, the red carpet-worthy looks splashed across TV, websites and magazines may be as close as many will get to actually scoping out high-end designer duds - much less wearing them.
But Klay Kaulbach is hoping to help make the fantasy a realities of women who dream of donning a high-end glamour gown for a night out a reality - and without the hefty price tag.
At duJour Boutique & Gallery in Vancouver, customers have the option of borrowing everything from day dresses to cocktail numbers for a fraction of the cost of buying them off the rack.
Kaulbach and his partner Johan Lotz were inspired to start the business after a visit to New York last summer, afterand seeing a news report about a store there with a similar concept.
Kaulbach said They thought the idea of women renting dresses was "brilliant" - although at duJour, they prefer to call it "borrowing" or "lending."
The business opened its doors last December - right in the midst of the economic slump.
"We did have our hesitations after things started to take a downturn, but at the same time, the concept kind of lends itself to women who may be experiencing those effects," he said.
"The fact that women are able to borrow the dresses as well as purchase them, it sort of falls in line with the recession and saving money - allowing women to remain fabulous for a significantly lesser cost."
There are about 300 dresses available, from minis to floor length, strapless and halter gowns, with sizes ranging from 0 to 24. duJour offers a three-night, four-day borrow fee starting at around $40 and rising to about $350. (The fee is based on the retail cost of the dresses, which ranges from $100 to $4,800.)
While there are both day dresses and evening dresses on the lower end of the borrow scale, something like a black, spaghetti-strap, floor-length silk pleated Gucci gown which retails for around $3,200 would be in the upper range.
With the exception of a couple of small collections, most dresses in the store have the buy-and-borrow fee option, Kaulbach said. After a dress is borrowed, the purchase price will drop, he added.
Kaulbach said most customers shop at the store for special events, with a substantial turnout among shoppers on the hunt for dresses for graduation and the Juno Awards, which were held in Vancouver this year.
But why would customers opt to borrow dresses with fees that fall within the range where they could potentially find lower-priced alternatives elsewhere to buy? Kaulbach believes one of the reasons is variety.
"A lot of women will wear a dress once, put it in their closet and they never have the opportunity or make the opportunity to wear it again," he said. "It gives them the opportunity to expand their wardrobe without breaking the bank."
Oliva De Leon-Gan, founder of The Cheap Girl, a Toronto-based blog which provides details and updates on fashion, beauty and style bargains, said she likes the concept of borrowing designer items, which she said helps makes high-end fashion more accessible.
The 27-year-old fashion lover describes herself as frugal and has a self-imposed rule not to spend more than $50 on trends that will likely last just a season.
De Leon-Gan thinks even when the economy is back up at full steam, people who may have become more budget-conscious won't suddenly shift gears.
While consumers may be keeping a tighter grip on their pocketbooks in this turbulent economy, an inaugural event in Toronto was geared toward enticing the fashionable and the frugal to open their wallets and support the local industry.
At the recent Frugal Fashion Week, designers, labels and boutiques who are members of the city's stylish West Queen West retail community were among the featured attractions.
In addition to some stores and vendors offering significant discounts, Frugal Fashion Week featured events included a shop crawl, silent auction and guerrilla fashion shows. A portion of the proceeds was to go to Windfall, a clothing bank.
"Basically, it is to encourage spending during the recession because of course when everybody hears 'recession' they start clamming up and they start saving their money and closing their wallet," said Frugal Fashion Week creator and producer Gillian Downes. "Then of course it's sort of that backlash when you slowly start to notice a lot of boutiques and stores closing down."
Downes said the event's aim was also to highlight the local concept and showcase designers and stores who aren't typically seen during Fashion Week. She said they are already gearing up for next year's event.
As for the impact of the recession, Downes said she thinks it will change the way people shop.
"I think we're actually going to start thinking more about our money and how we spend it and what are we actually getting back for it instead of just going out saying 'I want a $100,000 car' and here it is," she said.
"I think we're going to stop and think about what money we're handing over. And I hope that's a trend that actually lasts. I think that's a good trend."