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This woman gave her wedding dress to a stranger for free, and inspired a movement

For many brides, finding a wedding dress can be stressful and prohibitively expensive. That's why Gwendolyn Stulgis started a dress exchange group.
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 19: Wedding dresses are displayed in a window at a David's Bridal store in Manhattan on November 19, 2018 in New York City. The wedding dress retailer has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday. The company, which will continue to operate throughout bankruptcy, is coming to terms with changing consumer tastes in the wedding industry and a heavy debt load. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

When Gwendolyn Stulgis was shopping for her wedding dress, the two most important things were the price and the cut.

After trying on different options at a bridal shop, nothing quite struck a chord with her. Just as she was about to leave, the saleswoman asked her to look at one more gown.

"The lady that was helping us had said, 'Well, hold on a second. I think I have something for you,'" Stulgis said.

"It was champagne in color. It had long sleeves, sparkly lace all over it. It had these buttons that literally started down the middle of the back, all the way down into the train, which I absolutely loved. I stood there and kind of got tears in my eyes because it really was the dress that I really wanted."

It was a bit over her budget, but after encouragement from her mother-in-law, Stulgis bought it. And after wearing the dress down the aisle, she decided it deserved a better fate than sitting in her closet collecting dust.

"I couldn't figure out quite how I was going to do it. I ended up putting something on Facebook," she said.

Stulgis was bombarded. She received more than 70 messages, with each future bride describing what receiving the dress would mean to them.

She eventually settled on a woman who lived nearby — but a movement was born. Stulgis got messages from other women who also wanted to donate their dresses, as well as those looking for a dress for their own wedding.

Stulgis created a Facebook group called "Dream Dresses." She estimates that since June, more than 200 dresses have been exchanged, and the impact of the group continues to grow.

Diana Bowman was one of the women who donated her dress through the Facebook group, and said that it gave her an opportunity to help someone else with the stress she had experienced during her dress search.

"For me, it was also a different experience because I'm a plus-sized woman and finding a wedding dress in plus sizes is really, really difficult," she said. "So if I could take that stress away from somebody by passing along a beautiful plus-sized gown, I was like, I have to do it."

Bowman donated her dress on one condition: that it continues to get passed on.

"I hope that this dress gets passed from bride to bride to bride, and it just gets worn out and is in tatters at the end of its life because of all the celebrating that's done in it," she said.

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