Many remember the classic fairy tales they watched or read growing up of princes, happy endings and, most importantly, the fairy godmothers who helped to make the princess’ dreams come true.
Of course, the reality is nothing like a fairy tale, but when it comes to weddings, Carol Williams tries to be a real-life fairy godmother for the bride-to-be.
That’s why she began her nonprofit, Fairy Godmother’s Closet, offering free dresses, veils and other wedding necessities to brides who may be in need or simply find themselves in an emergency right before the big day.
She started the nonprofit a few years ago in Oregon where she lived on a farm with her husband before moving across the country to Forsyth County in November.
Williams was able to start in a small shop near her home with hundreds of dresses of various sizes and styles, most donated by bridal shop owners who had out-of-season or runway dresses that they could no longer sell in their stores.
Many of these dresses come in sizes 00-26 and are all brand new.
Others in the community have also offered her the old dresses that they simply don’t want to store anymore.
“You’ve got to figure, the average gown is worn less than four hours when it goes out,” Williams said. “Most of the gals today want two dresses — one for the wedding, one for the reception. So you’ve got a dress you paid thousands for that you wore less than four hours.”
She even encourages women to donate their older dresses. With her experience in clothing design, she said she can always transform older dresses into a more modern or beautiful look.
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A childhood dream
Today, she has over 300 dresses, which she moved with her across the country this past year to Forsyth County. She doesn’t have a shop, so she cleaned and hung each dress at her house where she invites interested brides to come have a look at her selection and try on dresses, veils and other accessories.
“It’s kind of turned into my ministry,” Williams said. “It really has, and I really enjoy it.”
She said when a bride comes over, she always asks them to describe the wedding dress they always dreamed of as a child. Then, she combs through and looks for the dress that best matches that vision, but also makes sure to pick a more modern dress that matches current fashion trends the bride might like.
She puts the bride in each dress in front of the mirror with a bouquet, giving them the full experience.
“Nine times out of 10, they go back to the [one from their] childhood dream,” Williams said.
That’s why Williams started the nonprofit. She loves being part of that special day for others and seeing their faces when they finally see that childhood dream become a reality.
Finally a bride
While she never worked in the bridal industry, Williams said she helped put together her first free wedding when she was working at a retirement facility in Oregon. She was gathered around the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate with a group of others when she heard one resident share that she had never had a wedding.
The resident, Joy, had been married to her husband, Louis, for more than 60 years, but when they got married, they had very little money. Instead of spending on a wedding, they spent what money they had on a marriage license and a steak meal to share.
“The more I thought about it, the more it drove me absolutely crazy,” Williams said. “So I called her daughter and said, ‘Would you mind if I gave Joy a wedding for their anniversary so she can be a bride?’”
When she agreed, Williams started planning. She went to a bakery to order a wedding cake, and after telling those at the shop what she was doing for the couple, they offered the cake for free. The same happened with the photographer, the florist, the venue owner and others.
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She found she was able to plan much of the wedding for free. Only one step was left — Joy’s dress.
She took Joy and her daughter to a small wedding shop and started picking out gowns for her to try on.
“They all looked ridiculous because she’s older,” Williams said. “She needed something subtle and just elegant. It’s hard to find in today’s market. But I’m standing there, thinking it through, and I pull out this dress from the back of the store. I turn to the lady who works there, and I said, ‘What about this one? There’s no tags on it.’”
The assistant and shop owner both said they had never seen the dress there before. Williams described it as a long, candlelight silk gown, and when Joy tried it on, she said her jaw dropped.
Not only was it beautiful, but it fit her perfectly. Nothing needed to be changed.
“I turned her around to the mirror, and the look on her face was worth every minute of what I had done,” Williams said.
Then, it was time for Joy and Louis’ first real wedding. Williams remembers trying to help Louis down the aisle in his wheelchair, but he stopped her before heading in to start the ceremony. He wanted the day to be perfect.
Although he hadn’t walked without support in months, Louis walked down the aisle that day. And while Joy walked down the aisle toward him, he stood for her.
Louis died just six months later, and Joy died around six months after him.
“But they got their wedding,” Williams said.
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No matter the situation
Ever since that moment, Williams hasn’t been able to get her mind off helping brides on their special day.
Although she’s new to the area, she believes it’s especially important now to help as many with their weddings as she can as people all over have struggled financially or with their health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just all sorts of stuff in the last year have destroyed so many weddings, so I want to give them back some hope,” Williams said.
Not only does she provide brides with dresses and veils, but she also helps with alterations and event planning for those who are really in need.
Brides don’t have to be struggling financially to stop by and see their fairy godmother. Williams said she helps brides with a lot of emergency situations.
Many brides who have ordered dresses online didn’t foresee that shipping would be delayed by stuck cargo ships and other issues caused by the pandemic and labor shortage.
“I had a bride here just the other day who has a dress on hold in case hers [doesn’t get here],” Williams said. “It still hasn’t come.”
No matter what the situation, Williams said she is simply happy to be there and be of some help. To her, everyone deserves to have that perfect, storybook wedding they always dreamed of.
To set up an appointment with the fairy godmother, brides can call Williams at 503-560-1921.