Two thoughts go through my mind when I’m invited to a Fashion Week party: “Yes, free drinks!” followed by “wait, who am I going to bring?” As a single woman living in New York City, I tend to have two go-to options for the latter—my friends or my gay husband—but sometimes, a real date is needed.
That’s not to say that friends aren’t always a great pick, but let’s face it, not all fashion parties are fun, and friends outside the industry will be the first ones tell you how bored they are. My gay husband? Also a good choice, but sometimes he needs a night off.
That’s why when a service called Rent-A-Gent popped into my email inbox, I was instantly intrigued. The service was touted as something that could “fill a void for the independent, successful, single woman who wants to have fun, who may need an extra set of hands for a home project requiring some muscle or yes, looking for a charming stud to strip down to their birthday suit for that unforgettably wild bachelorette party.”
When you think of a male escort service, seedy images of Richard Gere in “American Gigolo” might pop into your mind, but perusing Rent-A-Gent’s site feels more like picking out a pair of shoes with options like Eric (the actor), Alex (the entrepreneur) and Antonio, the “Spanish Dreamer.” With rates that start at $300 an hour, I guess seedy isn’t really an option.
I’ve read all the recent news stories about the rental boyfriend trend booming in China among women eager to please their parents and ward off the stigma of being single, and I can totally relate—there’s nothing like explaining to your aunt Martha for the sixtieth time why you still haven’t settled down. So I thought, why not rent a date, and take him to a fashion party?
After reaching out to the Rent-A-Gent team, I settled on Noah, “the guitar player,” and arranged to meet at designer Christian Siriano’s after-party at the swanky, newly opened Koi Soho in Lower Manhattan. (As a note, services were provided for free, in exchange for this article.)
He texted me an hour before our date telling me that he was looking forward to meeting, and then again a few minutes before our scheduled meet time telling me he was early (already better than most of the unpaid first dates I’ve been on).
We met in the lobby and he was dressed in jeans and a grey collared shirt, with that fresh off the farm all-American look. Very cute, around 5-foot-10, with dirty blond hair—definitely not someone who looked like he was an escort. A friend who met him that night described him as “very sweet, totally vanilla,” which I think is a pretty spot-on description.
Before I knew it, we were inside the party, sitting at a booth beside a dancing Alexa Chung and Lydia Hearst. I couldn’t help but grill Noah, who told me that he loved doing this because it is basically like “getting paid to be myself.” Noah (which he eventually admitted wasn’t his real name) grew up in Texas, moved to New York City a few years ago to be an actor, is 25 years old, lives in Harlem, and has an upcoming audition for “The Book of Mormon.”
As for how much he actually works as a rental date? He said it varies anywhere from one to four times a week. He ended up as a Rent-A-Gent, he told me, when the company discovered photos of him on a photographer’s site, and then contacted him on Facebook. “It was much less weird than it sounds,” he said. He then went through an extensive interview, and screening process, he said.
He does get nervous before all of his dates, he confided, and tends to Google his dates before going, many of which he finds to be “much more impressive than me.” Then, he’ll pick out an outfit he thinks would appeal to them, though being from being Texas, he does have cowboy boots on the ready, he made sure to share.
The date struck the perfect balance of companionship, without that feeling of having to babysit someone. He made sure all the people we were talking to had a drink at all times, did the small-talk game happily with my acquaintances at the party, and regularly told me he was having a good time.
We capped off the night at hotspot Electric Room for a party for Harif Guzman’s new shoe design for Del Toro. When friends there asked how we knew each other, Noah would respond, “We just met!” and he’d leave it at that. He told me he lets his dates decide if they want to disclose any more information.
The only hint I got that he might be a tad uncomfortable getting paid for companionship was when I asked if he had told his parents what he did. “Definitely not,” he said. And as for the more controversial aspects of being an escort, he did admit to stripping, but that was about it.
At the end of the night, we went our separate ways—no worry on my part if he was going to call or text me, no thinking that I’d just experienced the worst date ever (he was actually getting paid to make sure I had a nice time), and certainly no over-thinking about how I acted (I didn’t care, and didn’t have to).
After the date, Rent-a-Gent founder Sara Shikhman shared, “The idea came to me after I attended a few boring bachelorette parties where all the men could do was strip and the men we chose were not the ones who arrived at the door.”
The key to the service’s success, she says, is that customers pay for what they get. “We’ve received applications from over 1,000 guys, have met over 200 at our weekly castings, and selected 20 to be on our roster. We’re selective because when a woman pays $300 for something, just like if she was buying a $300 pair of shoes, she expects excellent quality. Our main criteria is that the men are even better looking in person than they are on pictures, and that all men we select have a special skill or talent … We don’t want no scrubs.”
The whole experience did give me at least a little bit more insight into why so many men seem to enjoy the company of women escorts. I understand that sometimes you just want a date that’s easy—one that’s more about pleasing yourself than the person you’re with.
Will I make a habit of hiring dates to escort me to fashion parties? Probably not. Would I consider ever renting a date to escort me to a wedding to ward off questions from my aunt Martha on why I’m still single? Absolutely.