Rebecca Whitlinger, of Wilkinsburg, has been wearing her 26-year-old bridesmaid’s dress to raise funds and awareness for the Cancer Caring Center.
Rebecca Whitlinger has been wearing her 26-year-old bridesmaid’s dress to raise funds and awareness for the Cancer Caring Center.
By Kathleen Ganster
Almost every woman who has been a bridesmaid has heard the words, “You can wear this dress again.”
And almost every woman has groaned when she heard them.
But not Rebecca Whitlinger of Wilkinsburg. Ms. Whitlinger has traveled extensively and appeared in a bridesmaid’s dress she wore in a friend’s wedding 26 years ago. And not only does she still wear it, she often uses it to raise money and awareness for the Cancer Caring Center, where she is executive director.
“I decided I was going to do something fun with the dress. I knew I would never really ‘wear it again’ — after all there were five other friends of mine who owned the exact same dress,” she said. She decided to start wearing the dress to all sorts of places — both unusual and everyday events.
The attention she received has been astounding. Ms. Whitlinger has appeared on “The Today Show,” “Oprah” and “Inside Edition” and in People magazine, to name just a few. She also landed a book deal.
“That was one of the most fun things about the dress,” she said.
“Always a Bridesmaid: 89 ways to recycle the dress” was published in 1999. Part of the proceeds went to the Cancer Caring Center, where Ms. Whitlinger has worked since 1994.
“We decided to use the dress and create a fundraiser around it because it was so much fun,” she said.
That fundraiser “Bridesmaids Revisited, Ushers Unlimited,” was held four years running from 1998 to 2001. It featured guests wearing old bridesmaids’ dresses, suits and tuxes, along with a couple getting married.
This year, Ms. Whitlinger and her staff decided to encourage others to dust off their old dresses and participate in their annual walk fundraiser, for the “Bridesmaid Walk” on Sept. 21 at the Waterfront.
“It is a way to add something different to our walk and keep with our tradition. We want people to come in their old bridesmaids, prom and wedding dresses,” she said.
Ms. Whitlinger’s custom-made dress cost approximately $180 in 1988.
“I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth,” she said.
Ms. Whitlinger remains good friends with the woman in whose wedding she wore the now famous dress.
Using the dress, she has substantially raised awareness about the Cancer Caring Center, a cause to which she has devoted nearly her entire professional career.
The center specializes in providing free emotional support services to cancer patients and their families. The services include neighborhood support groups, counseling, art therapy, yoga and tai chi classes, and programming for children.
“We want to do anything we can to help,” she said.
The center is always adding new services. The most recent addition is a new support group at UPMC Cancer Center in Washington. The group meets at 5:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of every month.
“We have not only more than 25 groups, which include different groups by location but also specialties including breast, colon, young adult, lung and general support groups. We also have a program for children … with cancer where we partner with Animal Friends,” Ms. Whitlinger noted.
Ms. Whitlinger has traveled with the dress to such faraway places as Paris, Morocco and Peru. She also has had both her passport and driver’s license photos taken while wearing the dress.
“I wouldn’t do anything illegal, indecent or immoral in the dress, but I definitely have a lot of fun with it,” she said.
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