Brides-to-be who are connected — or will be — to the military community: Apply now for a free, new wedding gown through a new program launched by the non-profit Operation Deploy Your Dress.

The deadline to apply for the initial wave of dresses is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, Friday, June 18.

The Operation Deploy Your Dress: Bridal launch includes 227 new wedding dresses with tags, valued at prices ranging from $1,200 to $3,000, donated by Revelry. Once a bride-to-be is chosen by a selection committee and her eligibility is validated, the process to choose the dress is all done virtually, in a carefully planned operation.

The wedding gowns are a new effort of the non-profit Operation Deploy Your Dress, started in 2015 by military spouses who wanted to provide an avenue for people to donate their ball gowns, and defray the costs of military balls for families. Since then, they have “deployed” over 14,000 dresses to service members and eligible family members, and just opened their 10th shop and first overseas location, in Landstuhl, Germany.

“We’ve heard so many stories of military weddings that have been put off” during the pandemic, said Noreen O’Neil, chief of business development and partnerships for Operation Deploy Your Dress. “We’re hoping this can help the back-to-normal feeling, and ease the financial burden.”

The non-profit is in talks with other dressmakers and distributors about donations of wedding gowns to the program to continue it after the initial inventory is “deployed.”

Unlike the shops with the ball gowns, this effort won’t accept used wedding gowns. The donated new wedding gowns will be “deployed” to those chosen at no cost, but the nonprofit is asking a $35 flat rate shipping and handling fee.

Those eligible to apply for the gowns are active-duty or retired service members; currently serving National Guard and Reserve members; fiancees of service members; and dependents of service members (including aged-out dependent daughters). Applicants must have a wedding planned between 90 days and two years from the date of their application.

The dresses, in 24 different styles and a variety of sizes, are all stored in protective bags in a distribution center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in space donated by the Salvation Army and the Association of the U.S. Army Pikes Peak Valley Chapter.

Brides-to-be will be paired with a stylist who is part of their Bridal Recon Team. That stylist will walk them through the process from start to finish. The bride will be required to get a professional measurement before the virtual appointment, as it’s assumed that the standard dress size will be different from bridal size. Brides can invite anyone to participate in their Zoom call as they select the dress from available sizes and styles specific to the bride’s professional measurements. The styling appointments will be scheduled for one hour.

The dresses will be carefully packed and shipped in special boxes, O’Neil said.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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