Milestone events like proms and weddings call out for boss threads. Jeanie and Mark DeNuzzio, of Ambridge, figure that a stretched-thin budget shouldn't stand in the way of making the scene. So they established Your Fairy Godmother Productions, which takes donations of used gowns -- wedding dresses, prom gowns and even aquamarine bridesmaids' monstrosities -- culled from craigslist, Freecycle and Yahoo groups, and matches them with couples in need. As a minister with the interfaith Free Spirit Fellowship, Mark also performs weddings -- and as an Iraq veteran, he has a soft spot for military couples. Check out what they're offering at www.myspace.com/fromyourfairygodmother.
How does it work?
Jeanie: We work with couples on a budget. Every woman deserves a wedding gown, and every girl deserves a prom gown. Hopefully the brides will return them to be used again, but it's theirs to keep. One lady asked if we sell these for charity. We don't sell anything. The only money that changes hands is maybe for gown bags. The biggest thing we ask in return is that [brides] do something nice for somebody -- pay someone's toll, carry their groceries.
Mark: We're trying to keep it as little of an expense to us. We don't mind the gas or garment bags. We want to operate with zero overhead, and we kinda do. The idea started before we moved here, about six months ago. We've had quite a bit of support. It's amazing. You spend $1,300 on a gown, then what do you do with it? You see a lot of bridesmaids' dresses -- you can see why people want to give that up! Brides are supposed to ask their friends!
What kinds of gowns do you get? Who donates?
Jeanie: We have one that ended in divorce. She said if we wanted to have a bonfire with a bunch of divorced women, we could. The appliqués are gorgeous, people could use them. This one, the train hangs down, it reminds me of Grace Kelly's. This one, the wedding didn't happen. She was so overwhelmed and happy to help someone else. A couple come with veils, I have a couple bridesmaids' shoes. The dyed shoes, the jewelry, people can reuse them. We get a lot of '80s gowns. We didn't have any mother-of-the-bride gowns; now we have 10.
What do you get out of all this?
Mark: When you look at someone's face, when they didn't think they were going to be able to get a dress and they do. Weddings themselves, every emotion in the human lexicon is there. We get just as excited as they do. That energy fills the room. That build-up, they pull on the dress. Sometimes if the hubby's with them, you see the little gulp.
Jeanie: Knowing we can help someone whether they're on a tight budget ... like we were.
One of [the] couples [who donated], she was going to donate her gown to charity.
Mark: They couldn't afford their wedding to begin with ...
Jeanie: ... and she was thinking of helping another bride!
Mark: She had just started school, she said, "I'm giving my dress away." She has nothing, but she's willing to give.
What do you tell military couples getting married?
Jeanie: I usually take her aside and say, "It's hard; you need to decide what you want to know." I was a little too involved [when Mark was deployed], I knew where he was. I tell them, "Turn the news off, it'll make you mad." You have to go on and do your day-to-day thing. The wives are thrown into being a single parent. It's hard.
Mark: The spouse's job is always the hardest. They have to pick up everything. The soldier has two jobs: what we're tasked to do and staying alive. Jeanie had to worry about the house and kids and food. I refuse to take a fee from a military couple. They have to give me a unit patch or a hat, and they'd better be able to sign it. When one goes into the military, they both go, whether it's in uniform or not.
What are some things you've learned about dresses along the way?
Mark: There are things you just don't talk to your guy friends about in bars. In Iraq, you're surrounded by brown. After a while, you say, "It's more of a taupe." You get looks. I know what a cascading bouquet is, I know what a crinoline is. I'm not sure about taffeta. The fact that I just used the word "taffeta" scares me.