Most married women look back on the moment they found THE dress with misty-eyed fondness - the exception being those who passed on the big wedding and went the more private and economical routes and ME. Me? I look back on the day I found my wedding dress and I grin. If I think about it long enough, I laugh!
Chances are if you're from the Boston area and you are female, you've heard of the semi annual wedding dress sale at the big Filene's Basement in downtown. Filene's Basement used to be a bargain hunter's delight...on a regular day. You never knew what you might find on the racks. But once or twice a year the main floor space would be cleared to make way for racks and racks of wedding dresses.
These were off-the-rack extras, designer samples, overstocks, runway display dresses that had been worn once or twice, last season's left overs...a pretty broad selection, in other words. The real kicker to this sale? Most of the dresses could be purchased for under $100 (that's 1990 dollars, folks. They are probably more costly now.) That's right...dresses that would have sold at retail for six or eight THOUSAND could be found at this sale for rock bottom prices.
So now you begin to understand the appeal of this sale.
I'm a fairly practical person and my best friend at the time was VERY cost conscious. We both agreed it was stupid to pay full price for a dress that would only be worn once. So we made a plan to attend the sale. I had to be careful not to let my plans slip to my mother. She would have had a heart attack. She already had grandiose plans of shopping for my bridal wear on Newbury Street, just she and I. More on that later...
Kathleen and I drove into Alewife and parked my car at our favorite parking deck. We hopped on the T (MTA subway) and rode the red line the few stops into Downtown Crossing...the diamond and retail district. Loads of great shopping! We had a game plan all mapped out. When the store's doors opened at 8am, she would go one way, I would go the other. We'd grab as many dresses in my size as we could hold then we'd meet back by the front door.
We were lucky. We knew some girls who had been to the sale. They gave us some important tips and warnings. 1. Get there early! People start lining up hours before the store opens. 2. Wear comfortable shoes! No heels. Too much risk of tearing a dress as you try them on. 3. Wear a leotard or sport bra and bike shorts. There are NO DRESSING ROOMS. 4. Make a bee-line for your size on the rack, grab as many dresses as you can hold and RUN! (I understand they have changed things slightly and they no longer sort the dresses by size. Makes it more fair for the late comers.)
Yes, that advice came in handy. There were already a large number of people waiting in line when we arrive just before 7am. The crowd was a little pushy/shovey, but in good spirits. At ten minutes til 8, people began to chant "Open up!" and "Let us in!" We knew security wouldn't open the doors any sooner than they absolutely had to. At 8am sharp, it was like a starter's pistol went off. The locks on the doors clicked, the doors were thrown open, and the Running of the Brides commenced! Seriously...it was like being in Pamplona for the bulls.
Just like a synchronized swim team, Kath and I split up in the sea of eager shoppers and went looking for the right racks. I was able to scoop up about 8 dresses and I fought my way back to the front of the store. Kath arrived with about 4 more. You can't be shy at the Basement sale! I peeled off my coat and outer layer of clothes and began trying dresses on over the cat suit I wore. Some women had brought a team of helpers. They had sheets they held up to form impromptu dressing rooms. A pretty good idea, except the press of people pushing by would sometimes knock those "walls" down and leave the poor girls exposed.
A couple of the dresses we picked up we discarded almost immediately. They were the wrong style or just plain ugly. There were always girls waiting to scoop up rejects (the girls who didn't arrive early enough). We got pretty chatty with the other size 14s waiting patiently for our castoffs. When I tried on the 6th or 7th dress, the girls all got quiet. I waited for my turn at the triple mirror and realized why Kath was biting her nails and trying not to cry...the dress fit me perfectly. It was totally NOT what I went in hoping to find, but I couldn't deny what I saw in the mirror. It looked amazing.
I checked the price tag. It was hard to weed through all the repricing and cross outs, but I was pretty sure the price in red was the right one. $64. Wow.
I yelled SOLD and the girls watching my progress cheered as I gave up the remaining dresses in our pile. From checkout to subway and back to my car was a bit of a blur, but when I opened my trunk to lay the plastic garment bag inside I suddenly realized I HAD MY WEDDING DRESS! I stared at the glimmer of sequins and lace and wondered how I was going to tell my mother. I'd bought a dress...without her. She was going to KILL me unless I came up with a Mission Impossible style plan to cover my tracks.
I've talked about the plan and how it backfired in a previous entry, but long story short, I planned to go through the motions with my Mother. Store after store of over priced designer dresses until her brain turned to mush. Then I'd just tell her I went back to XYZ on my own and bought that pretty dress we both liked so much. She's so afraid of getting older she'd never admit she didn't remember the exact dress I was talking about. I was home free!
Months later... She fell in love with the second dress I tried at the FIRST STORE we went in. She refused to look any further. She wanted me to spend over $6,000 of my own money (we agreed to split the cost of the wedding with my parents because they were a bit broke at that time). *cough* I barely managed to get her out of Pricilla's of Boston on Newbury Street before the big blowup. We fought all the way home. I never did tell her how much I actually spent on my dress. I also neglected to tell her where I bought it and who I was with. I would have never heard the end of it.
As it was, the wedding almost didn't happen. But I've told that story before too.
So even tho things got ugly, nothing will take away the fun of that day. It was crazy, silly, impulsive...and one of the last things I did with my best friend before she left this world. She never got to see me wear that dress down the isle, but at least she saw me in it once.
The most important thing about that dress? I wore it once on one of the most significant days of my life. June 21, 1992. Why yes! It IS my anniversary today. Thanks for noticing.
John thought I looked pretty damn good in that dress too, if memory serves. I love you babe! Happy Anniversary!
P.S. A couple links I found while doing a Google to see if Filene's Basement still does their semi annual sale:
A fun photo series from a recent bridal sale...just like the one I went to all those years ago.
An article from the Daily News.