The Wedding Gown Capades

I heard a commercial for an Oprah show a couple of weeks ago where they were going to do a story on the Wedding Gown sale at Filene's basement in Boston, Mass.  I chuckled to myself when I heard it because that's exactly how I purchased my wedding gown, 13 years ago.  I'm here to tell you that if you shop at this sale, you will never forget it.

I didn't watch the show, but I'm sure it was a similar experience to the one I had.  Here is the story, as I wrote it back in 1997.  My poor husband (then fiance) was dragged into it with me.  I sold it to him by telling him I needed someone to share the experience with.  Somehow, we both lived to tell the tale.

Jay and I became officially engaged on Valentine's Day 1997. We considered setting the wedding date for sometime in 1998 but decided "why wait" and decided on August of that year.  Because we had chosen to "elope" in Hawaii (planned elopement - wedding coordinator, videographer, photographer, etc.) we didn't worry so much about having just shy of 6 months to prepare.  The only worry was getting the gown.

I purchased a couple of bridal magazines and book titled "The Wedding Gown Guide of New England" to help me decide on some styles and/or designers.  Since my parents would be flying out in May to visit I had hoped to take my mother and Jay's mother gown shopping with me.  Then I read the book.  Ugh.  The book stated you would need a minimum of 6 months to get a dress chosen, ordered, delivered and altered.  I called a couple of bridal shops to confirm the disappointing news and it seemed to be true.  They actually told me to plan on 7-8 months.  Now I had to figure out an alternative to the traditional or chance no gown.

I read past the first 3 chapters of the Guide book I had purchased and found a section on alternate choices.  How perfect!  I read about Bridal Consignment shops and a local store that sells dresses right from their stock.  No ordering.  The problem was all the dresses are samples from wedding gown stores.  This means they've been tried on and dragged around.  I decided to visit the store just to see what they had available.  I must say I wasn't impressed.  They seemed to want top dollar for what looked like a used gown.  All that I saw looked in need of repair.  Of course they offered this service.....for an additional fee.  I decided to keep it as an alternate in the event I needed it.

My next mission was to track down and visit any consignment shops in the area.  I continued browsing through the Guide, thinking about making a list of consignment shops, when I read this intriguing paragraph about a famous Boston Filene's basement wedding gown sale.  Apparently, as I read, the Boston Filene's basement buys sample wedding gowns from bridal stores all around the U.S. and collect them until they have 800 or more.  After they've reached their minimum they advertise a bridal gown sale.  This typically happens twice a year.  I continued reading.  All gowns are sold for $249.00, regardless of the ticketed price, as is with no returns.  Wow!  Now I was really intrigued.  The book went on to describe the sale as a "cat fight" of women ripping gowns away from each other, trampling on each other, pulling hair, etc.  Hmm...could they be over-exaggerating?  I decided to give Filene's a call to inquire about the next scheduled sale.  What do you know.  It's like it was meant to be.  The sale would be held the following Friday - February 28.  Now all I needed to do was to convince Jay he wanted to go with.

The morning of February 28th started extremely early.  We set out for the sale before even a glimmer of light was in the sky.  We had to get there early.  The book said so!  The drive to Boston from Connecticut wasn't too bad, mostly because we were too early for work traffic.  Our problems didn't actually begin until we got into Boston.  My Massachusetts born and raised fiance wasn't sure what way to go.  He kept blaming his confusion on the fact that his bladder was on the verge of explosion.  The one-way streets all seemed to be going the wrong way.  A missed turn here, a wrong turn there, and no parking garage in sight.

When we finally found a one-way street going in the direction we wanted to go there was also a parking garage, which is what we were desperately trying to find.  Jay pulled the car in, grabbed a ticket, then pulled up to a screeching halt just out of the way of traffic.  He jumped out, hollered something about me parking the car while he found a bathroom and went running off.  There I was.  I decide to try to wait since he wouldn't know where I parked and we had no "we'll meet here" plan.  I waited for 5 minutes.  No Jay.  I waited for 10 minutes.  Still no Jay.  I finally decided I'd better park the car.

After parking the car I walked back to where Jay had jumped out.  Still no Jay.  Although I was a little concerned about standing in the middle of a parking garage in downtown Boston by myself, I thought it might be the best plan.  Finally I saw his red jacket coming around the corner.  "It's this way" he yelled, waving me on.  "I saw the camera crews going this way".  Camera crews?

We're walking along, up to the building thinking we did pretty good for time because although we're passing tons of news vans we don't see the ridiculous line of people as described in the book.  Enter the Jaws movie them here.  You know, the sound that's played before the shark attacks.  As we approached the building it became evident why we didn't see any people.  There were about 30 stairs leading the basement, and they were packed.  Packed!!  What we didn't know at the time, but later found out quite quickly, was that there was a second set of stairs below that one also filled to the rim with people.

We managed to squeeze our way down about 12 steps.  It felt a lot like cattle being herded, at least what I'd imagine it would feel like.  All you could see were women.  Poor Jay, I began to feel guilty that I'd begged and pleaded for him to come with me.  There was a girl standing in front of us that would kindly giggle at Jay's wisecracks, his coping mechanism.  She eventually turned to talk to us.  She was from Canada but in Boston visiting a friend.  She'd read about the sale in the newspaper and decided to see if she could get a good buy to save money on her upcoming wedding.  Her fiance was also with her, although she had lost him in the sea of people.  As we're talking a Filene's employee ventures into the mob to pass out written shopping rules.  Oh boy.  Maybe the Guide really wasn't exaggerating!

Once the doors finally opened we were led into the jewelry area.  Everybody was supposed to remain calm and orderly.  Yeah right.  We were stopped just before the escalators by the Filene's employees.  We were supposed to wait for the sale to officially open.  We stood there watching a few rebellious shoppers sprinting over cones and tape and running past security guards like they were prison escapees.  It was a sight to see.  All I could think was "really?  For a wedding gown?" 

Remember that scene from "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" where the entire town is running and pushing each other out of the way to escape the killer tomatoes?  This was the scene as soon as we were allowed to go.  The only difference was that instead of running away they were running toward those coveted racks holding somewhere around 1,200 wedding gowns.

It took Jay and I about 20 seconds to get from the jewelry department to the floor below that was filled with the racks of gowns.  By the time we'd arrived we saw nothing but chrome.  The racks were stripped bare!  Women were screaming, running, ripping gowns from each other and fighting, all with arms full of gowns.  The screaming and ripping of lace and material was so loud you couldn't even focus.  Jay and I stood there in shock.  Absolute disbelief.  We hadn't a clue where to start or what to do.  The only thing bringing me back was the next set of events.  Right there, in the middle of the floor with camera men (men!) all around, women were stripping down to nothing.  NOTHING!  It was unbelievably disgusting.  Mind you the camera men and Jay were not the only males in the room.  A few other brave souls were there as well.  Didn't seem to matter.  Clothes were flying in every direction possible.

We needed a plan.  Our idea was to walk around, as much as we could, and check out the dresses the women were trying on.  When we found one I liked, we would wait to see if the woman liked it or not and if not, we'd ask if we could see it.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Too bad it didn't work.  Nope.  Lesson 1 is you don't walk around the Filene's basement sale.  Instead, you get pushed in a direction that the majority are moving in.  Lesson 2 is that somehow these women had in their minds if the dresses were in their hands, or those of their entourage, they owned the rights to them.  This is regardless of whether they liked them or not.  Apparently, you aren't allowed to get a dress unless you have one to barter with.  Problem.  We had no dress.  Trying to even look at dresses with no barter dress resulted in screaming, grabbing, pushing and shoving.  I was standing there, running on 4 1/2 hours of sleep, surrounded by naked women and trying desperately to keep my cool.

We fought our way to the outskirts to try and develop plan #2.  It appeared our only option was to wait it out.  Wait until people started finding dresses and discarding dresses then dive in again.  As we were standing there, implementing plan #2, the girl we'd met on the stairs came up to us.  Her arms were full of a dress.  She was trying to tell us, yelling as loudly as she could, that she was still trying to find a dress she liked and was packing this dress around to barter with.  She also stated she was about to give up, but she wanted to take one more trip around.  She kindly offered us the "bartering" dress if she decided to leave empty handed.  We were so grateful and told her we'd really appreciate it.  About 15 minutes later she came back, handed us the dress, yelled "this is nuts" and headed for the escalator.  Well, it was time for us to jump back in.

Before we started our next round Jay suggested we look at the dress she'd given us.  This sounded like a good thought.  We fought our way through the crowd to a side area not so heavily populated.  As we were plowing through I felt like a running back carrying the ball in for a touchdown because every woman I came into contact with literally tried ripping the gown from my hands.  It was unbelievable.  We made it to our destination and while Jay acted as my dress guard I unfolded the gown.  It was gorgeous.  No rips, no missing pieces, and somehow had managed to remain pure white.  No footprints!  As much as I liked it, it was a lot more dress than I'd originally wanted.  We would be flying from Connecticut to Hawaii and have to carry the dress on and off all the flights from here to there.  We both really liked it though.

"Try it on" Jay urged.  Mind you, I'm standing there in jeans, a sweatshirt with a turtleneck underneath and absolutely refusing to strip down like the others.  As I was contemplating how to try this on I spotted a dressing room.  Perfect!  I packed up the dress and headed on over.  The Filene's employee said dryly "go in".  It was a communal dressing area and there were women with their entourage arguing, grabbing, crying, and carrying on. Of course this was all taking place with women who were either naked or in their underwear.  There was no floor space and I was being glared at from all who thought I might be entering "their" area.  This was not working.  So back to where we had unfolded the dress so I could take off my sweatshirt and step into the dress.  Jeans, turtleneck and all.  It fit.  I decided though that I'd like to look just a little more because I had spotted a couple of dresses that weren't so full.

Back in again.  Everything I could get close to I didn't like and everything I liked we couldn't get close to.  The final straw was waiting for a young girl to try on a gown that I really liked.  Jay was whispering "It's not going to fit" as we watched, waiting for her to discard it or at least be willing to barter.  She sucked in her breath as her mother pulled the back together as tightly as she could.  I smiled at Jay, giving him a secret code to grab the dress as soon as she took it off.  The girl was in tears trying to get this dress on.  "I love it" she was screaming to her mother as her mother tried to close the 5 inch gap in the back.  "Yeah but you don't fit into it" Jay whispers to me.  She gets out of the dress and says "It's mine, I can fit into it by then" and off her mother goes with it.  Jay and I looked at each other in disbelief.

We were now left with 3 options.  Option 1:  we wait for more of the crowd to disperse and see if there's anything left.  Option 2:  we purchase the gown we've got.  Option 3:  we leave empty handed and continue looking.  Option 1 was out because the majority of the remaining dresses were so heavily soiled and destroyed I'd have to pay someone to reconstruct them.  I really liked the dress.  We decided it was THE dress and got in line to make the purchase.

All in all we had a good laugh, went away with a great story, and Jay got his unexpected bachelor party with not only one, but numerous women stripping all around!


Maura @ Lilac Lane Cottage said...

Staci that was hilarious....scary to think people could be that crazy over a wedding dress but I guess it takes all kinds. I hope you were really happy with the dress in the end. Well...time is running out to get things ready for the big day and I need to get to bed. I hope you have a wonderful day...good luck getting your last minute shopping or what ever else you need to do ...done. I hope you and your hubby have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Maura :)

Lori Lynn said...

Holy Moley! And you lived to tell the tale!!! LOL!
¸.*´¸.**´¨) ¸.**´¨)
(¸.*´ (¸.*´* Lori Lynn *

Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thanks Maura - yes, it takes all kinds. And yes, I was thrilled with the dress. All the airline staff were so kind and let us board each flight first. I guess you could say it really worked in our favor. And yes Lori Lynn, we did in fact live to tell the tale. We went home, went back to bed and when we got back up we laughed and laughed about it.
Merry Christmas!