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Military brides shine in white
Program provides wedding dresses
Bride WEB 1
Jennifer Schirmer-Smith, right, helps Rachel Spare with a wedding dress at Bravura. The bridal store in south Forsyth donated dresses to military brides as part of Brides Across America project. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Rachel Spare traveled more than 500 miles from home on a recent afternoon to find the dress of her dreams.

Spare stood on the runway of Bravura smiling in her fitted lace wedding gown as she enjoyed the priceless moment.

Thanks to the national project Brides Across America, the dress itself was free for the military bride.

Bravura, at The Avenue Forsyth, was one of two businesses in Georgia — and just 37 in the U.S. — to hold an event this month offering free gowns to the women in white for the men in uniform — or vice versa.

Shop owner Shirley Fraser said she wanted to do what she could to help those who serve in the military.

Being in the fashion business, she decided a free dress event was the best way to help.

“It’s rewarding. Giving is easy,” Fraser said. “I think every bride who walks out seems very happy.”

Susan Wilson, Spare’s mother, said her daughter planned to find her dress at an event like this one after a friend did just that last year.

With no shops participating in Spare’s home state of Florida, she and her mother, who lives in Mississippi, met in Forsyth County to find the dress.

“It’s been a great experience,” Wilson said. “Some of these girls probably wouldn’t have gotten the dress they’re getting without this.”

Fraser lined up dresses from her stock of designers and ones she got manufacturers to donate on Nov. 15 and 16 in the store. The retail prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to more than $2,000.

For Army bride Samantha Winnemore, the cost of a dress could have been a deal breaker for her wedding.

Winnemore said the pay for an enlisted man in the Army doesn’t match the average cost of an American wedding, so the dress event was a relief in the planning process.

“There’s definitely no comparison to any other military discount,” she said. “Plus this is something that’s so emotional.”

She knew which dress she wanted when she saw it on the hanger and said she “didn’t want to take it off.”

On May 11, she’ll be putting it on again.

The 20-year-old Forsyth County resident said she enjoyed shopping for a gown with other women who understand what it’s like to marry a military man.

Spare will wed a member of the Coast Guard on March 30, just a couple weeks before he will be deployed for a year.

“That’s going to be a challenge for the first year of marriage,” she said. “Seeing him make sacrifices for this country … has definitely opened my eyes.

“They don’t get to make the plans for their lives.”

Spare and her husband do get to make the plans for their big day, which will feature navy and coral colors and her man in uniform.

She hopes to stun him in the white gown, a “thank you” for his service from a shop owner 500 miles away.