Military social life is a concept that is commonly underestimated by the civilian eye. I grew up watching my parents transform into shiny versions of themselves for Military Balls. I sat on the bathroom floor while my mother glossed her lips and spritzed the “special occasion” Coco Chanel. My father slid into his decorated jacket and laced up reflecting black shoes. Although these forbidden nights began to pick up pace and occur multiple times a year. My mother soon ran out of gowns to shimmy into and the Chanel perfume was drained.
For military spouses and servicewomen, acquiring formal attire for events and ceremonies can be a financial burden. A burden which may add undue stress and take away from a night intended to be fun. Thankfully, Operation Deploy Your Dress (ODYD) has stepped in to address this issue. This non-profit organization has been making waves in the military community, acting as a space for dress recycling while providing military personnel the opportunity to look their best without exhausting financial resources. This summer, I was granted the chance to attend an Operation Deploy Your Dress pop-up in Arlington, Virginia, and it is an experience that all military members, spouses, and children should have.
The Root of Operation Deploy Your Dress
Operation Deploy Your Dress was founded in 2015 at Fort Bliss, Texas, when military spouses Renee Chapman, Ronya Rendon, Yvonne Coombes, Liz McKenrick, and Melissa Riely noticed the recurring issue of the high cost of formal attire for military balls, events, and ceremonies. The impracticality of spending money on a gown that may only be worn once surfaced with the establishment of ODYD. ODYD aimed for a solution that would facilitate the recycling and redistribution of gently-used formal wear within the military community. They aimed to make the process easy, accessible, and above all, free of charge for military members and their families.
This idea blew up and (rightfully so) gained an overwhelmingly supportive response from the American public. As of 2022, Operation Deploy Your Dress has collectively saved military families over two million dollars and deployed over 20,000 dresses. The operation has spread its cause nationwide with locations in Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, Virginia, and an international location in Landstuhl, Germany.
How Operation Deploy Your Dress Works
ODYD operates through various chapters spread across military bases in different locations. Each chapter collects donated formal wear, including gowns, suits, and accessories, from military members and civilians alike. These items are then carefully inspected, cleaned, and organized, ready to be "deployed" to their next wearer. Simple yet brilliant!
In my experience, after showing proper military identification, I was greeted by enthusiastic volunteers eager to help me find my perfect gown. I was given a 45-minute slot to browse through endless dresses and accessories. Each guest is allowed to bring home two dresses and one accessory free of charge. Both fitting rooms and fashion advice are provided at the venue. Flipping through the dresses on the rack with my mom was a great excuse to spend time and bond. I left satisfied by participating in a military-empowering non-profit organization while acquiring a new addition to my closet.
The Impact of ODYD on the Military Community
The impact of Operation Deploy Your Dress extends far beyond providing cost-effective formal wear. The organization fosters a sense of community and camaraderie among military families, offering a safe space to connect and share experiences. Furthermore, ODYD promotes sustainable practices within the military, encouraging the reuse and recycling of clothing items. By extending the life cycle of formal wear, the organization plays its part in reducing the environmental impact of fast fashion and excessive consumption.
Additionally, ODYD’s incorporation of volunteers pulls local unity into the organization. Volunteers play a crucial role in the success of Operation Deploy Your Dress. They are the heart and soul of the organization, dedicating their time, skills, and passion to support military personnel and their families. At each ODYD chapter, volunteers are actively involved in various aspects, from collecting and sorting donated formal wear to assisting military members in finding the perfect outfit. It truly takes a village.
Operation Deploy Your Dress exemplifies the power of community-driven initiatives. Through the tireless efforts of its founders, volunteers, and donors, the organization continues to make a significant difference in the lives of military personnel and their families. Not only does it alleviate financial burdens and promote sustainable practices, but it also fosters a supportive and inclusive community within the military.