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North Hills Monthly

Bridesmaid Revisited: Gold Lamé Dress Raises Funds, Eyebrows in Many Different Locations

Jan 30, 2015 04:04PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Fashions come and go with the seasons, but a bridesmaid’s dress is forever—at least that’s how Rebecca Whitlinger sees it. Whitlinger, the executive director of the Cancer Caring Center, wears a 27-year-old bridesmaid’s dress wherever she can, whenever she can.

The gold lamé dress was custom-made for the wedding of her beloved college roommate. “Since all of our close friends have the same dress, I felt that the likelihood of wearing it again was nil,” she explained. “So I decided if I couldn’t wear it anywhere, I’d wear it everywhere and take the pictures to prove it.”

Whitlinger wore her dress when she rode a camel in Morocco, and she’s worn it in Machu Picchu, Peru and in Paris. But she doesn’t have to travel far to wear the dress. She’s voted in it and she’s worn it for her driver’s license and passport photos.

“I don’t linger in the dress. I’m a quick-change artist; I throw it over my outfit, take the photo and move on,” she laughed.

The dress ripped while she was in Punxsutawney, but she has no plans to repair it. “It’s remarkably durable, and I’ve subjected it to a lot,” she said. “I wear it proudly as battle-scarred; I don’t want to fix it.”

When she first began wearing the dress, she garnered a great deal of national attention, having appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America and Inside Edition. On Inside Edition, designer Nicole Miller fashioned a new dress using a duplicate of Whitlinger’s bridesmaid’s dress, provided by another bridesmaid in that wedding party. She’s also been featured in People magazine twice and has been written up in Redbook and in InStyle Weddings.

It’s even led to a book deal for Whitlinger, who in 1999 published Always a Bridesmaid: 89 Ways to Recycle That Bridesmaid Dress. She donates a portion of her proceeds to the Cancer Caring Center.

Whitlinger has even transformed her dress re-wearing idea into fundraisers for her nonprofit, which provides help and support to individuals and families dealing with cancer. For four years, the Cancer Caring Center held an event requesting people to wear something that they’d ordinarily be unable to wear again, including bridesmaid or prom dresses. At one of these fundraisers, a couple got married, leading the event directors to dub it the world’s largest wedding party.

This past September, the Cancer Caring Center held a Bridesmaid Parade, where folks walked around the Waterfront wearing old prom and bridesmaid gowns. “I took my quirky hobby and made it into something that raises money for the Center,” said Whitlinger.

So is this a trend? Are people truly finding ways to recycle that bridesmaid’s dress? Or are brides choosing dresses that are less ‘bridesmaidsy?’

“I think brides are looking at their bridesmaids and saying, ‘I’ll choose the color and you pick the style,’” said Whitlinger. “There is no way one cut can accommodate a woman who is 5’1” and one who is 5’10” with a variety of bust and hip sizes. No one style will look good on everyone.

“Brides now tend to give more freedom to their bridesmaids, encouraging them to select something in which they are comfortable,” she added. “Plus, we live in an age of recycling; people are saying that it’s not good to have something that can only be worn once.”

As bridesmaids’ dresses can be very expensive, Whitlinger certainly has gotten more than her $200 worth, and she has no plans to discontinue wearing the dress. In fact, she keeps it in her car’s trunk. “You never know when a photo op might present itself,” she laughed.