Nothing gets some soon-to-be-married women wound up like designer gowns at deep discounts. Our writer braved Filene’s Basement’s annual Running of the Brides to see if she could find the dress of her dreams. Jillian Kramer
I cling to a blanket and a cup of coffee and brace against the October cold in a line of women that stretches two city blocks. Around me, a gaggle of girls shake hand warmers, mothers don glittering crowns, and the line’s front-runners emerge from tents in witch hats and dance outside Filene’s Basement.
We’re gathered for the annual Running of the Brides, where 1,400 designer gowns, some worth up to $9,000, are sold for anywhere from $249 to $699.
For the sale, I — a pumps-and-pearls girl — have slipped on running shoes and a cotton T-shirt. After getting up at 4 a.m., I’ve waited with my two team members (my mother and a friend) for nearly three hours outside Filene’s Basement’s Warrensville Heights store. Now, in the final moments before the front doors are flung open and we’re set free to scour the racks, I even pray. Please, God, I think, don’t let me be trampled.
At 7:55 a.m., women crowd the front doors and press ever closer to the gowns. “We’re going to die,” my mother blurts out as she stands squished between two people. I know she doesn’t mean to be dramatic, but for hours we’ve overheard women threaten to physically attack anyone who comes between them and their dream dress. One woman even yelled: “No one better get in my way, or they won’t know what hit them.”
The smell of coffee and cigarette smoke clings to the air. My heart races as I reach for my friend’s hand in the crowd and can’t find it. Finally, the doors open and an anticlimax descends: We waddle forward for what seems like several minutes until we’re through the bottleneck of the store entrance and can break away at a full-speed run.
I rush to the farthest rack and toss an armload of dresses to the ground. I look back for more, but the racks are already bare.
Women shed their clothes in the aisles, standing in sports bras and underwear as they sort their piles and step into their gowns. At 8:25 a.m., a victorious cry comes from a corner of the store — a woman has already found her gown, and I haven’t even found my size. For once, I curse my slender hips, my too-small-for-a-bra breasts. The plump girls have their pick, and I have nothing but a sign asking for small sizes.
I walk the aisles aggressively, shoving my sign toward anyone with a pile large enough to spare a dress. But I am met with scorn. One woman even sneers at my sign. “I wish I had your problem,” she says. When I get back to my pile of dresses, a timid girl approaches and asks for a size four. We have nothing to give her.
By 10 a.m., more dresses reappear on the racks. We find dozens that are too large for me, but we try them on anyway, hoping they are cut small. The first dress I put on — an elegant sheath of silk that hints at old Hollywood glamour — is stunning.
Still, I insist on trying on 60 more dresses. After nearly three hours of lifting dresses over my head, my team members’ arms ache, and my feet are sore after dozens of trips around the store in search of an open mirror.
But I keep coming back to the first dress. The fifth time I try it on, tears well in my eyes, and my mother, who has stayed decidedly neutral all day, whispers in my ear, “I knew it was the one the first time you put it on.”
We let out our own victorious cry. And I pray again: Thank God this is over.
If you missed this year’s Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement’s Warrensville Heights location, you can line up in Columbus on Jan. 29, 2010. filenesbasement.com