HIGHLAND | For bride-to-be Tracy Batten, a white lace-layered dress is big change from the U.S. Army uniform she wears five days a week.
“Monday through Friday, I’m in uniform,” Batten said. “So for it to be a Tuesday and here I am trying on dresses it’s phenomenal.”
Batten, of Indianapolis, is one of the brides receiving a free wedding dress from Elegance Wedding & Evening Wear in downtown Highland in the semi-annual Brides Across America's Operation Wedding Gown.
Brides Across America, founded in 2008, is an organization providing free wedding gowns to brides who are in the military or marrying someone who is.
Twice a year, Brides Across America partners with bridal stores, like Elegance Wedding & Evening Wear, across the nation for gown giveaways.
This is the fourth time the Highland boutique has participated in Operation Wedding Gown in the past two years.
Batten, a staff sergeant, has been in the Army for 11 years.
Surrounded by the silk, lace and sparkle of the bridal boutique, Batten said, “I just got done with a deployment, so it’s nice to feel girly.”
Her fiancé who is also in the Army, Ron Baland, proposed to her a week ago. The two met while on deployment at an inspection site.
Manager Stefanie Fliter said this is the shop’s biggest charity event. She said Elegance Wedding & Evening Wear is the only participating bridal store in Indiana and Michigan with Brides Across America.
Fliter said the brides have access to the boutique’s entire collection of designer dresses, of which can get into the $2,000 price range.
Charlott Sitarski, the boutique owner, said it is a heartwarming experience to see military brides pick out their dress for the big day.
As Sonia Formosa, of Highland, tried on one of her dress options, a long white, shimmery gown, she laughingly agreed that finding the right man was the easy part compared to the search for the right dress.
Her fiancé, David Kuzmar, of Hammond, is currently in Afghanistan on his third deployment for the U.S. Army.
“I have been nothing but excited,” Formosa said. “It’s everything I have been waiting for."
After Formosa and Kuzmar get married next June, they will move to Fort Hood, Texas, where Kuzmar is stationed.
“It’s kind of like an adventure,” Formosa said. “Wherever he goes, we get to explore a new place together.”
Sitarski said partnering her shop with Brides Across America has been a great opportunity, and there will be another gown giveaway in November.
“The price of a few dresses we give away each year is nothing compared to what our military members sacrifice and the sacrifices of their loved ones,” Sitarski said.