Once Upon a Bride: Donating Wedding Dresses

“All I want is to share a lifetime with you.” – Vern Lampos

Like every bride, shopping for the wedding gown morphed into a major event. As a second year teacher in an urban setting, my bridal budget resembled an ostrich egg. My mother, a retiree living on social security, insisted on buying my nuptial attire. We hopped the bus from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and traveled to Madison in pursuit of a white frothy marvel of beads, netting, and tulle.

The price tags on the creations that the saleslady brought for me to try on would pay my rent for a month. Or more! My mother could eat for half a year on the cost of one alluring design.  Scanning the shop, my eyes focused on a simple white gown.

No heavy beading. No layers of lace. No fussy tulle.

Simple. Modest. White.

I pointed it out to my mother. She smiled in approval.

“Oh, that’s a prom dress.” The clerk’s words were edged with scorn.

“Let me try it on.”

Perfect. The fifty dollar price tag clinched the deal. My sister’s mantilla promised to add the fluff, bringing in the old adage: “Something borrowed.”

Never have I felt so beautiful.

Photo by Harry Wahl

My husband and I celebrated 48 years of marriage recently. The wedding dress hung in the closet all that time, too simple for my two daughters to wear at their nuptials. Every time the white cloth scooted into view, my heart ached. What a waste to let such lovely material eventually rot and yellow in a dark corner.

An Opportunity to Give

Then a friend suggested a solution. Linda Dempski had heard of a place near Milwaukee where women transformed wedding dresses into angel gowns.  Fluffy little dresses and suits for new borns who went to Heaven before their parents wanted them to go. Babies who needed to have a special outfit for their journey. Parents too grieved to know what to do in such a time of loss. Mothers who have loved an infant with a love beyond comprehension, and now is missed beyond all tears.

Photo by noozhawk.com

Made with love by a seamstress at Angel Gowns of WNY

So, I packed my gown in a tissue-filled box for the postman to deliver to Linda, and she mailed her wedding dress with mine to the Angel Gown Program. The knowledge that the beautiful materials will wrap a family with compassionate care has brought a great deal of satisfaction to both Linda and me.

To help parents experience dignity and love at a time of grief, neo natal units offer these gowns. The beauty of the fabrics envelope the little one with specialness and affirm the importance of their brief lives. A gift of love from both a bride and a seamstress to grieving families.

Fiona Kirk is one of the many women who stitch the tiny dresses. She says, “As soon as you see the gowns, you can feel the love that has gone into them. It speaks volumes; it shows that someone cares. It’s helpful for the healing process of the mum. It validates their baby.”1

Fiona Kirk, founder of Angel Gowns Australia. Photo by Gary Schafer

“The world around you moves on, as if your life was never shattered, and all you want the world to do is say is that your baby mattered.”  AJ Clark-Coates

Places to donate a fabric memory

There are other ways to pass on the specialness of a wedding dress. Wish Upon a Wedding is a nonprofit organization that helps couples facing illness or life-altering circumstances to enjoy an intimate wedding celebration with all the allure and trappings of this special day.

The Brides’ Project carries a fashionable line to support the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor. By providing brides with a budget friendly nuptial masterpiece, the lives of people touched by cancer are enriched. Mary, a cancer survivor, states that: “For me, the Cancer Support Community is about the giving and the getting; the asking for help and helping others; the listening and being listened to.”2

The Bridal Garden is an organization which supports the Sheltering Arms Children’s Service. The proceeds help New York City children in areas of education, foster care and adoption. The donations of wedding dresses raises revenue while letting each bride feel like a princess.

Brides Across America allows those in military service to become a discerning fashionista bride for their nuptials. As Veteran Lucia Mendez sighed, “This act of kindness is something I’ll never forget.”

Photo by Brides Across America

Adorned in Grace is a wedding shop in Portland and Tacoma filled with donated elegance for the special day. The proceeds from the sales help victims of sex trafficking by providing support and shelter, as well as restorative services through Compassion Connect.

An Empty Closet, But a Full Heart

There are many places to repurpose a wedding gown that will bring joy to the hearts of a couple who need a fresh start in life. I have never regretted recycling the dress I wore when Vern and I exchanged vows and became one. Our marriage rests on our day to day interactions, not on the memory of one moment of our lives.

As for me, the thought of my mother’s nuptial gift becoming a source of comfort for grieving parents brings tears to my eyes.

A prayer on my lips.

A vision of angels in gowns.

“When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that is love.” – Lana Del Rey


  1. com.au/2014/turning-wedding-dress-angel-gowns/
  2. https://www.cancersupportannarbor.org/about-us/member-stories/



  1. What a wonderful idea, Cleo. I would donate my wedding gown, but I borrowed it from my niece who had married two years earlier, so it was free. I had it cleaned and returned it to her. She has since passed away, and no one knows what became of that gorgeous dress. She may have donated it. I hope she did.

  2. Laura Lewandowski

    Where can I send my gown

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