By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Being the Belle of the Ball is a tall order for a military wife in a tough economy.
To help them out, the Enlisted Spouses Club of Fort Hood has stocked a community closet full of dresses they can use for free.
'So many military balls take place each year that it doesn't make sense to buy a gown that you're going to wear just once,' said Rachel Dean of the Enlisted Spouses Club. 'Especially when money is tight.'
The community closet will have its official start on Jan. 2 at the Montague Community Life Building on the base at Fort Hood. Military women, wives and daughters will be able to come browse through the dresses and check one out. 'We have about 300 dresses inventoried right now,' Mrs. Dean said. 'But there's another 100 that need to be sorted. All that's boxed up and piled underneath my kitchen table right now.'
The club has been collecting dresses since summertime. They've been receiving donations of gently worn ballgowns fairly regularly.
'People seem to be really enthusiastic about helping,' Mrs. Dean said. 'The goal is for us to get about 1,000 dresses. That way, every woman will have a huge selection in their size.'
A large variety of formal wear is important to military wives like Christy Phillips of Nolanville.
'You don't want to wear the same thing twice because people take pictures and you're in them,' Mrs. Phillips said. 'So the community closet is a very helpful service to offer.'
The program had a trial run this month, operating from Mrs. Dean's home in Killeen. About 30 women borrowed dresses for December balls.
'It's such an incredible program,' said Heather Wyatt of Fort Hood. 'It's hard to find nice formal wear in this area, so having all those dresses in one place really saved me a lot of time and money. I didn't have to go hunt for anything.'
Caleigh Gamble of Killeen also enjoyed the ease and affordability of the program.
'It offers a lot of great dresses for nothing,' Mrs. Gamble said. 'So all the money you were going to spend on your dress, you can spend on the extras - like getting your hair and nails done.'
All military women in Central Texas are welcome to take advantage of the Belle of the Ball Community Closet.
'Female soldiers are welcome to borrow ballgowns as well,' Mrs. Dean said.
The only requirement is that the women have the gowns dry cleaned before they return them.
'The gown is due back to the closet within 10 days of the event you borrowed it for,' Mrs. Dean said. 'That should give you plenty of time to get it cleaned and returned.'
The gown-borrowing system was modeled using a library's registration form. To apply, you need a military ID, an address and telephone number.
'We literally wanted it to be as easy as checking out a book,' Mrs. Dean said.
And if the drive to Fort Hood is too far, no worries.
The closet's gown selection is described online at http://www.fhaesc.com/BelleOfTheBall.htm. The dresses are organized according to size, from 2 to 24. There's also a maternity section.
'Each entry has a photo that shows what the dress looks like,' Mrs. Dean said. 'There's shots of the front and back.'
The models on the Web site are members of the Enlisted Spouses Club.
The closet's clothing stock isn't limited to formal wear.
'There's plenty of cocktail dresses for date nights,' Mrs. Dean said. 'And there are prom dresses for daughters.'
There's also a man's jacket.
'But we hope to expand that,' Mrs. Dean said. 'Eventually, we want to get to where we can have jackets for men to borrow. That will be a really big help when they come home and start applying for jobs.'
To donate to the community closet, visit the Web site or call Mrs. Dean at 254-539-9875. Reservations for ballgowns may also be made at that number.