Free Wedding Dresses for Military Brides

Amy Finley
Contributor: Melissa Mayntz
Military groom holding bride

Planning a wedding can be difficult and expensive, but a free wedding dresses for military brides giveaway organized by Brides Across America is able to take some of the financial and emotional stress off engaged couples serving in the armed services.

Military Wedding Dress Giveaway

Heidi Janson, the founder of Brides Across America, wanted to find a way to help active duty servicemen and women plan their dream weddings with less stress and less of a financial burden. In July 2008, Janson called upon her contacts from more than 25 years in the bridal industry to collect wedding gowns for a giveaway to military brides, and in two days she gave away 50 gowns to ecstatic and grateful brides. The wild success of that first giveaway prompted more events and bridal shops in more than 15 states participated to give military brides their dream gowns - for free. Since its inception, the organization has given away over 20,000 wedding dresses and more than 20 complete weddings.

About the Dresses

These free dresses for military brides come from a variety of different sources, including designers, individuals, and bridal salons. Brides Across America does their best to offer dresses for the events that are on-trend and in new or excellent condition. Styles range from Cinderella wedding gowns with sequins and full skirts to sleek strapless dresses to curvy mermaid styles. The exact styles and sizes vary at each participating bridal boutique, though many shop owners have tried to include a range of sizes from 4 to 22 so both petite and plus size brides can find the perfect dress. Prior to the event, host salons are also given a list of attending brides and their sizes.

Bride and military groom kissing

Dresses have also been donated by prominent designers who have elected to sponsor the giveaway. Designers include Allure Bridal, Jim Hjelm, Maggie Sottero, Private Label by G and many others.

Qualifications for Free Wedding Dresses for Military Brides

Dresses are available on a first come, first served basis to eligible brides. To qualify:

  • The bride or her fiancé must be on active duty in the armed services and have been deployed previously or will be deployed in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
  • A military ID and deployment papers or other verification will be necessary.
  • Couples are still eligible for the giveaway if they had a civil ceremony prior to the overseas deployment and separation but are now planning their wedding.
  • First responders or their fiancées are also eligible for the dress giveaways.
  • Your wedding must be planned within 18 months of registering for an event.

Brides who do not receive a free wedding dress in the current giveaway can choose to sign up at participating salons to be notified about future events. For brides who can't attend a giveaway, Brides Across America also offers deeply discounted dresses in their online store.

Register for an Operation Wedding Gown Giveaway

Currently, Operation Wedding Gown Events are held twice a year (in July and November, neat Independence Day and Veterans' Day). The exact dates and times of the giveaway, as well as the number of free dresses, varies by store. Brides must register in advance. A $40 registration fee is required, but brides experiencing financial hardship may have the fee waived. Visit BridesAcrossAmerica.com for an updated list of participating salons.

Other Military Gown Giveaways

Although Brides Across America is one of the largest and most well-known military wedding dress giveaway organization in the U.S., there are other possibilities for finding a free dress. Local organizations or bridal salons themselves may hold events, so check in your area. A few examples of these include the following:

Marry Me Military

Organized by the USO in Southern and Central Ohio, Marry Me Military is an event that started in 2015. Brides-to-be or fiancées of active duty, guard or reserve military are eligible. Dresses are donated by local bridal shops. Visit the USO website for upcoming events.

Military wedding bride and groom

Gowns for Good

Bell Vogue Bridal, located on Lenaxa, KS, supports local military members and their fiancées with an annual Gowns for Good Event. During the event, military brides or their fiancées can have a 30-minutes appointment and select a wedding dress free of charge. More than 100 gowns each year are available to choose from. The event is held around Veterans' day.

Salute to the Dress

In a special Salute to the Dress event held in Camden County, military brides or military family members were able to get a free dress for a wedding, second wedding, or vowel renewal. Over 500 dresses were available for women to choose from.

Where Can I Find a Free Donated Wedding Gown?

A free wedding dress is a wonderful thing for military brides, but there are inevitably more brides available than there are dresses. Fortunately, there are other ways to find a free donated wedding gown, whether a bride is in the military or not. Ideas include the following.

Marine groom kissing bride

More Options for Discounted Dresses

  • Ask relatives about the possibility of borrowing a wedding dress.
  • Ask friends who have recently married about wearing their dress.
  • Consider getting a bridal shop to sponsor your wedding so you can wear a dress for free.
  • Investigate free dresses or dress loans from local churches or women's charities.
  • Check online free exchange communities, such as FreeCycle.
  • If you have special circumstances, such as medical concerns, contact related charities and organizations about donated dresses.
  • Look for and enter contests on wedding websites; some feature dress giveaways, such as Bridal Guide's Cover Gown Contest.
  • Look for charities in your area that may offer free dresses, like Every Girl's Dream in Michigan. Income restrictions may apply.

Even if you can't find your perfect wedding dress for free, there are many ways to find gorgeous cheap wedding dresses.

  • Choose a casual dress or party dress instead of a bridal gown.
  • Shop at thrift stores, consignment boutiques, or clothing resale shops.
  • Visit discount bridal gown outlets for affordable styles and clearance wedding dresses.
  • Brides Across America also has an outlet store in Andover, MA that is open to the public and offers dresses up to 80 percent off retail price.
  • Buy your wedding dress at a bridal show or trunk sale when samples are heavily discounted.
  • Choose a gown that is a few seasons old to take advantage of older discounts.
  • Consider renting your wedding dress to reduce costs.

The Stress of Military Weddings

Planning a wedding is a challenge for every couple, but it can be even more difficult when one or both individuals is on active duty in the military. For many engaged military couples, wedding dates must be postponed multiple times, even for years, while deployments are extended and tours of duty are arranged. Some couples must plan quick weddings between tours, and often the available dates are not known far enough in advance for a dream wedding plan to come true. Furthermore, in addition to the wedding planning stress, couples must also endure lengthy separations while their significant other may be stationed in dangerous situations.

A Dream Dress That Won't Break the Bank

Finding free wedding dresses for military brides - or any bride in a budget pinch - can be easy with the help of generous organizations and the caring support of a community of individuals who understand that a wedding can still be a dream come true without costing a fortune.

Free Wedding Dresses for Military Brides