Before wedding march: Running of the Brides

Hundreds flood into Filene's Basement in Towson hoping to find discounted gowns

July 15, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

With an hour left to kill, the ladies are antsy. Fueled by coffee, tired of the all-night card games, armed with walkie-talkies, they are ready for the doors of Filene's Basement to open.

Some are wearing matching T-shirts, so that they can better spot their allies when things get chaotic, as they know they will. One group, clutching pictures torn from magazines, is in pink. Another group has chosen camouflage.

They are taking no prisoners. Deeply discounted bridal gowns are at stake.

Just after 8 a.m., the glass doors swing open, and the store managers stand back. The whooping, hollering mob runs in - a stampede of frenzied, determined bargain hunters.

Within three minutes, the racks are empty.

The Running of the Brides has been a tradition at Filene's flagship store in Boston for at least half a century. For years, word that the discount store was putting a shipment of designer wedding gowns on sale attracted brides-to-be by the hundreds. They camp out in lines waiting for the doors to open, not unlike hard-core fans seeking tickets to a Rolling Stones concert.

Yesterday's sale on wedding gowns was the third for Filene's Towson store, which opened in 2004. Designer gowns that normally carry four-digit price tags go for $250 to $500.

More than a hundred women rushed the store yesterday. Some found bargains. Others, like Christine Intrieri, were not so lucky, but left with a story to tell.

"We still had fun," said Intrieri, who made her entrance with four friends, their arms locked like a soccer team trying to ward off a penalty kick. "We couldn't stop laughing on the way in. We were crying, laughing so hard.

"It was mayhem."

Kari Olson and her mother, Linda, said they began their wait at 8:30 the night before. They took turns venturing into the store for a peek at the racks of dresses, which were cordoned off with yellow police tape. They napped in sleeping bags outside the store, unable to do much sleeping under the glare of the fluorescent overhead lights and the giggling groups that joined the line at midnight and, for some reason, at 3 a.m.

The sacrifice earned the 27-year-old Charlottesville, Va., bride-to-be the first spot in line, which she hoped would give her a slight advantage when she scrambled to find a vintage-style dress for her January wedding.

"At first, I said, `It's worth a try, when you look at these prices," Olson said. "But as we've waited in the hot, I'm now saying, `I better find something.'"

Kim Wallace, a slender, dark-haired, 25-year-old bride-to-be from Greektown, said she arrived with four of her friends at 4:30 a.m., passing the time "talking, drinking lots of coffee and acting silly."

She said she wanted to check out this sale after a watching a episode of Friends, where Monica, Phoebe and Rachel camp out at a bridal store called "Eileen's Basement" and storm the racks with whistles around their necks. Monica wrestles another bride-to-be to the ground in the episode.

Wallace, who intends to be married in April, decorated white foam visors for her friends, who were wearing them as crowns. And she got them matching T-shirts with the words "Sassy, but classy," the motto for the strapless, mermaid-style dress she was after. On the back, the T-shirts were printed with the logo: "Team Kimitzel," a reference to the blending of her first name and her fiance's last name, Mitzel.

"I've already become Kimitzel," she said.

Soon, the countdown begins:

7:54 a.m.: The crowd of several hundred is snaked around the sidewalk of the Towson store. They let out a collective yell when a manager comes out and shouts, "Ten minutes to go."

Inside, the clerks and managers stand at the ends of the racks, to keep them from being toppled.

8:04 a.m.: The doors open. The brides-to-be and their entourages grab what they can of the 1,300 dresses hanging neatly in clear plastic garment bags.

8:07 a.m.: The racks are bare.

The women, having accumulated heaps of gowns, begin sifting through them to see if they have, by chance, grabbed one in the right size or style.

One woman strips down to her panties and bra in the men's suit section. Another is in her underwear in housewares. A few have worn bathing suits under their clothes. But many are in girdles and corsets, the undergarments they plan to wear on their wedding days. This is not a time for modesty.

Most of the dressing rooms are left open, because they are cramped compared to the open aisles. As she stands in bra and panties, Wallace says, "It's very surreal to stand in a store in your underwear."

8:20 a.m.: Cheers and yelling erupt in the lingerie department. Katrina Trent has found the dress.

The 28-year-old Windsor Mill woman, preparing for a July 2007 wedding, turns, wearing a curve-hugging, strapless gown. Her three friends admire it, as she pronounces, "We've found it."

8:45 a.m.: About half of the gowns are back on the hangers as shoppers begin to narrow their choices.

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