In the 10 years Shannonrae Vanlanham has been an Air Force spouse, the mother of four has attended her fair share of formal military functions, each time having to shop for a new gown. Thanks to one of Fort Gordon's newest programs, Vanlanham not only saved a bundle of money, but also walked away feeling more connected to the community.
Say 'Hooah' to the Dress officially opened to the Fort Gordon community Sept. 3.
Sponsored by the Fort Gordon Spouses' and Civilians' Club (FGSCC), the program offers free formal gowns and accessories to military service members and their families. Any military ID cardholder, including Department of Defense civilian employees, may select one free dress, shoes and accessory from the boutique -- all suitable for military balls, weddings, proms, a formal night out on a cruise or similar event.
"There is no caveat as to why you need it," said Amy Bean, Say "Hooah" to the Dress chairperson and dressing room manager.
The boutique is operated by FGSCC volunteers who work to ensure that every person who enters the boutique leaves feeling better than they did when they first walked in. From directing shoppers to size-appropriate gowns to assisting with putting the gown on, Bean said volunteers are there to "do all of the buttoning and zipping that is needed that you can't do by yourself when you're trying on a gown."
For Vanlanham, the care and attentiveness were greatly appreciated as she tried on multiple gowns.
"It's really hard in a dressing room trying to zip yourself up but you have women here to help you and they were so sweet," Vanlanham said. "A lot of these women know how hard it is -- the pressure there is -- to look beautiful at these events … it was just a really great environment and then a great way to meet new people as well."
Having attended numerous military functions, Bean and the other volunteers can relate to spouses like Vanlanham. And because of that, they are able to take their personal experiences --positive and negative -- and turn it into an encouraging encounter for anyone who enters looking for a gown.
"With this experience, you've got women telling you, 'That color looks great,' or 'Let's keep looking for another gown because this one isn't really fitting as nicely as it could,'" Bean said. "You see their walls kind of drop a little because they feel safe. We really try to make sure that every woman feels comfortable and at ease."
Currently, the boutique boasts more than 800 gowns plus jewelry, shoes, purses and other accessories. All items have been generously donated; many of them by local retailers and military spouses. Hundreds of items still have tags on them.
Sho-Ane's Bridal and Formals, Elegant Bridals, and Edge Formals have been the biggest supporters of gowns.
"I can't even tell you how many gowns we've gained just from those stores alone," Bean said.
Augusta Players donated two 10x12 popup tents and tablecloths, which are being used as dressing rooms.
Anyone who would like to donate is encouraged to do so during business hours.
Say "Hooah" to the Dress is open the first Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in conjunction with the Fort Gordon Thrift Shop hours.
"Anything that we pull from the inventory, we give to the Thrift Shop," Bean said. "It's really about building up the team and encouraging growth in the community."
At this time, the boutique is located at Building 39109 on 40th Street. Plans are underway to relocate Building 39101 on 40th Street, next to the Thrift Shop.
For more information, visit the "Say Hooah to the Dress Fort Gordon" Facebook page or https://fgscc.com/say-hooah-to-the-dress.
A HUMBLE BEGINNING
Say "Hooah" to the Dress began in early 2018 as an informal dress swap among eight military spouses.
"We all came together, started bringing in gowns, and before we knew it, we were up to 100 gowns," said Amy Bean, Say "Hooah" to the Dress chairperson.
In August 2018, the ladies put together a proposal for the Fort Gordon Spouses' and Civilians' Club and the organization agreed to sponsor it as an affiliate program. As a result, the program expanded exponentially and continues to flourish. At some point, organizers hope to be able to incorporate men's clothing.
"Right now, we're trying to just really get out in the community and make sure that everyone knows that this is an option and we're available," Bean said.