I did not have a “say yes to the dress moment.” I had a lot of, “oh my gawd, no” moments, but when I put on the dress that I would eventually pick for our wedding, I didn’t cry or get choked up. I didn’t proclaim to my assembled family that this was “the one.”
Don’t get me wrong– I felt absolutely beautiful in it. I love the pictures from the day. I still love my dress. But I didn’t have a visceral, heart-stopping moment.
Not until I looked at the price-tag, at least.
It was… pricey. It wasn’t an outrageous amount, but it was above my initial budget. Maybe I should have expected it– maybe my budget was way too low. But the sticker-shock made me pause and think if I really wanted this dress. If I really wanted to spend that much money.
In the end, I decided to trim a little cash from elsewhere in my wedding budget to pay for my dress. It was gorgeous and I did love how I felt and looked in it. But that was six years ago. Now, as my little sister gets ready to get married, dress prices–and wedding prices, in general– have seemed to double.
A lot of brides are stuck standing in front of a mirror in a wedding boutique, wondering how–or even if–they are going to pay for a wedding dress. Military brides are no different; in fact, financial stress can be heightened for military couples, given the high unemployment rate for military spouses, costs of relocating, and other military-related factors.
But there are some opportunities for military brides to score free or reduced-price wedding dresses.
1. Brides Across America
Over nearly two decades, Brides Across America has given away more than 20,000 dresses to the fiancees and brides of service members and first responders. Twice a year–in July and November–they hold events in participating bridal boutiques across the country where eligible women are able to try on dresses and go home with a dress that day. You will need to pre-register before the event so that Brides Across America can send a list of participants and sizes to each bridal boutique to try to guarantee that there will be dresses available in the participants’ sizes. Bring an ID and $40 to cover the administrative fees on the day of the event. If you are unable to make it to an in-person event, you can purchase a wedding dress from Brides Across America’s online store at a deep discount, with designer dresses starting at $99. Find out if you’re eligible for the Brides Across America program.
2. Operation Deploy Your Dress
Operation Deploy Your Dress is a military spouse-founded non-profit that works to make military balls and events affordable for military spouses by allowing military spouses with IDs to shop dresses and accessories for free. While not exclusively for military brides, you may be able to find something you love to wear at your wedding. The only catch is that you will need a military ID, so this choice is great for military spouses who are having a second ceremony or a vow renewal. Operation Deploy Your Dress locations are in California, Georgia, Washington State, and Virginia. Participants are allowed to take one dress and one accessory per year.
Check with your local USO to see if they are hosting any wedding dress giveaway events in the near future. In the recent past, individual USO chapters have hosted “Say Yes to the Dress” and “Marry Me Military” events. It can’t hurt asking and seeing if your local chapter is planning something soon! Even if your USO is not planning something for brides, check out their other programming and events– the USO is a wonderful resource for military families, no matter what stage of life they may be at.
4. Local Organizations and Events
Especially around Memorial Day and Veterans Day, keep your ears open for wedding dress giveaway events at local boutiques or through non-profits. These types of stories are feel-good ones that are often picked up by the media, so there will likely be a lot of publicity around them. These events may happen around Veterans Day, during the winter in preparation for the summer wedding season, or around Memorial Day (although, of course, they could happen any time at all).
Of course, it’s not free, but don’t forget to ask for military discounts as you’re shopping for a wedding dress. Honestly, ask for discounts as you’re doing other things for your wedding, too. You may be turned down… or you may be surprised by what is available.
Want more military wedding tips? I’ve got you. Read more:
- How to Save and Financially Plan for a Wedding as a Military Couple
- Simple Weddings: The Perfect Choice for the Military Life
- Courthouses & Quick Weddings: 14 Military Spouses Tell All
- 7 Easy DIYS Any Bride Can Do to Save Money on Her Wedding