When Donna Vaccarezza flipped through bridal magazines, she found that designer wedding dresses cost thousands of dollars. To her, that just didn’t seem fair.
“I never believe that you should pay too much money for anything and you can get things for a lot less than what they’re listed at,” said Vaccarezza. “I wanted to help other brides to be able to [do] that.”
So Vaccarezza opened Fairytale Brides on a Shoestring Boutique, a non-profit bridal shop in Congressional Plaza in Rockville, which allows women with a limited budget to purchase designer dresses at a reduced price. Dresses range from $100 to $1,200 and can be listed as up to 75% off their retail price.
Despite the typically high cost, which can average more than $1,000, wedding dresses are worn only once. However, the boutique, which collects much of its inventory from individual donations, gives wedding dresses a chance to be worn again. The store also offers bridal accessories, veils and jewelry, as well as mother of the bride, prom and flower girl dresses.
The store’s profits, after expenses, are donated to the Victims’ Rights Foundation, a Montgomery County based non-profit that offers services to victims of violent crimes, and the Rockville Pregnancy Clinic, which helps pregnant women and those with sexual health issues. As the store is itself a registered non-profit organization, donations are tax deductible.
“[Fairytale Brides] is unique in that we have a full circle of giving,” Vaccarezza said in reference to the boutique’s ability to donate its profits to charity and provide brides with more affordable dress prices.
A framed picture of Audrey Hepburn hangs above the main desk. Vaccarezza said she respects the Breakfast at Tiffany’s actress for both her iconic beauty and her many charitable contributions, qualities she hopes to inspire with the boutique.
A row of white dresses designed by Vera Wang, Justin Alexander, Pronovias and Atelier, among many others, hangs across the length of the boutique. Farther back, more dresses fight for hanger space; the layers of white eventually give way to an additional row of brightly colored prom dresses.
The Fairytale Brides boutique pays no sales staff; roughly 30 women volunteer there.
“We’re there to help the brides and we get a real kick out of it,” said Jewish volunteer Judi Casey. “I really enjoy helping the brides. They can try on every dress in the store to find the right one. We really truly enjoy it. You really feel like you’re helping someone.”
The volunteers maintain the store’s bridal community by keeping in touch with customers through email. At donators’ request, the store will them know where and with whom their dresses end up.
Tracy Dhyani, a volunteer since last November, said the store fosters a sense of community and friendship with its brides.
“This is a very special place,” Dhyani said. “We get to know the brides, they get to know us, and the dresses have a story.”
Dhyani recalled when a bride took a liking to a pair of shoes the store provides for costumers to try on with their dresses. As they weren’t the lightly used or new shoes usually for sale in the store, Vaccarezza gave them to her as a gift.
“She was so grateful she cried. I cried. It was very special.”
The boutique is currently asking for additional bridal donations for Bride’s Across America event in July, which will provide free dresses to military brides.