Gwendolyn Stulgis offered her wedding dress on Facebook. Other brides followed.
Looking at her reflection in a bridal shop in Warren, Ohio, Stulgis decided she would splurge.
“I fell in love with it,” said Stulgis, 37, vice president of a recruiting agency.
But she had some reservations.
“I didn’t want to spend so much money on a dress that I would put in a box and never wear again,” she said. “It’s just not me.”
So Stulgis came up with a plan. After her May 6 wedding, she gifted the dress to a bride-to-be who otherwise couldn’t afford a dress.
“I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to keep,” said Stulgis, who paid for the dress in monthly installments until just before her wedding.
Knowing how exorbitant dresses can be – the the average price of a wedding dress last year was around $1,800 — she decided to give it away rather than sell it.
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She took to social media to find a bride who would be just as thrilled to wear it as her.
“I felt absolutely gorgeous in it and I want someone else to feel how I felt,” Stulgis wrote in a May 19 post. Facebook post which she shared in various groups.
She included several photos of the dress and clarified the size in a comment. She also laid out a few details: the recipient of the dress must have a wedding date within a few months of publication, and after wearing it, the bride must dry clean it and pass it on to another bride, thus creating a continuous chain. .
Her goal, she wrote, was to “keep going as long as the dress can hold.”
She asked anyone interested to send her a private message explaining why they wanted the dress. The post was widely shared, and once local news picked up the story, it spread even further. Submissions started pouring in and by the June 2 application deadline, Stulgis had received 72 messages – all of which she read with her husband.
One submission stood out. It was from Margaret Hyde, who lives in Portage County, Ohio.
“Between covid and life throwing rotten lemons at us, our wedding budget keeps shrinking,” Hyde, 32, wrote in a private Facebook message to Stulgis.
She then explained why she wanted the dress and shared a bit about herself.
“I’m a simple woman who doesn’t like to talk about herself much,” Hyde, who works at an auto parts store, wrote.
“I serve my community as much as I can,” she continued, adding that she keeps several small free food pantries in her neighborhood and donates to her local food pantry whenever she can.
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Unbeknownst to Hyde, his future sister-in-law, Alycia Ashley, also messaged Stulgis on Hyde’s behalf a few days earlier.
“She is the most selfless person I know,” Ashley wrote. “I have never met a more deserving woman who would pursue your wish to pass this dress on to someone after her.”
Hyde said she was initially hesitant to enter the dress contest, but told Ashley she was interested in the dress. It was the style she had wanted but couldn’t afford.
“I am a giver. Normally I’m not a taker,” said Hyde, who decided at the last minute to send Stulgis a bid.
In a Facebook Live on June 4, Stulgis announced the lucky bride who would receive her dress. Hyde was in shock.
“I didn’t expect to win at all,” said Hyde, who had looked everywhere for a dress but couldn’t find one that was affordable. She considered making her own outfit as a last resort.
“I found several that I liked, but there was no way I could shell out thousands of dollars for one night,” she said.
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Stulgis met Hyde in person to pass on the dress, which Hyde intends to give away – along with her shoes and some costume jewelry – once she wears it to her wedding in October.
“I met her and felt like it was meant to be,” Stulgis said.
“The fact that I can convey that too, I love it,” Hyde added.
Others were intrigued by the concept. While trying to find the recipient of her dress, Stulgis received messages from many women who also wanted to donate their wedding dresses.
“There are so many dresses and so many nice people,” Stulgis said.
She decided to create a Facebook group called Shared dream dresses to encourage women around the world to also donate their dresses to someone who would like to wear them.
“All dresses are free and donated and cleaned from the previous owner and passed on,” reads the band’s description.
Women have the right to alter the dresses as they wish, Stulgis said, with the caveat that once worn and washed, they will repost them to the group for another bride to claim.
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In the four weeks since the group’s launch, over 2,100 members have joined and approximately 100 brides have successfully secured a dress to wear on their wedding day.
“It’s not about me anymore. It’s about other people who want to give their dress to someone else who needs it,” Stulgis said. “It really works, and it’s so beautiful.”
Jennifer Francis, 58, was one of the first members to join the group and enthusiastically offered her formal ivory strapless dress, which she bought for her upcoming wedding in August, but ended up choosing a different dress. The dress has not been worn and all the tags are still on it.
“I really wanted to bless someone with this dress,” said Francis, who lives in New York.
Several women wanted it, Francis said, but there was one bride who was just days away from her wedding and, due to financial hurdles, still hadn’t gotten a dress. Francis paid for the dress to be express-shipped to Cambridge, Maryland, where the woman lives.
“She was very grateful,” said Francis, who is one of five Facebook group moderators and also monitors posts to make sure no one is trying to sell anything.
Ultimately, “I didn’t get this dress for me. It was really for her,” Francis said.
In addition to wedding dresses, women have also started sharing bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride sets and other accessories.
Stulgis’ mother, Lisa Toner, donated two of her own dresses in the Facebook group.
“I will never wear them again and I want to let someone enjoy them,” she said. “They were going to hang in my closet forever. At least someone can now wear these dresses without having to worry about the burden of spending thousands of dollars on something they’re going to wear for four to five hours.
“When Gwendolyn decided to do this, I was just amazed,” she continued. “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I hope this will spread everywhere and make all women smile.
This is exactly her daughter’s wish.
“I would like to help as many brides as possible,” Stulgis said. “Everyone deserves to feel beautiful on their wedding day.”
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