We Love Madness: The Running of the Brides Part 1

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All photos by Don Feduardo

The following is a guest entry by the Social Chair, who is far more qualified than I am to discuss this particular subject matter.

At the end of February, Fedward asked me to marry him and become Social Chair For Life. Within five minutes of my saying yes, we agreed that we wanted “a short, non-religious ceremony with a really great party” and that it would be in DC (after all, we love DC) or metro accessible Maryland or Virginia. Our only other requirement? Great cocktails. Obviously.

Trying to plan a reasonably priced wedding in DC is much like trying to find a reasonably priced apartment: it’s not impossible, but it takes some work. I was chatting with Jenn about the most recent sticker shock I had seen: $25k for 100 people for a cocktail reception (I looked carefully and saw no mention of monkey butlers, which might have made the price palatable). She suggested an occasional post about planning a local wedding, and I knew the perfect way to start the series: by talking about April 29.

I bet you think I’m talking about that fancy shindig across the pond. Yes, I watched; I love me some pomp and circumstance. I cannot wait for my own procession to the ceremony with thousands of people waving at me (that happens for all brides, right?). However, Kate and Wills were merely the opening act for a much bigger event: Filene’s Basement’s Running of the Brides.

This annual sale gives brides the chance to buy a dress marked down to $250, $300, or $700. It is one day only, no returns accepted. The Filene’s Basement website gives some great tips, one of which is the recommendation that one show up late. Accordingly, I planned lunch and drinks with a few friends before I hit the sale. More about that later – because for you all, I went bright and early to see what it is like when the doors open. I imagine it is very much like when piranhas attack.

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We arrived at Mazza Gallerie about 7:30 am, half an hour before the doors open. The line extended around the building to Wisconsin Avenue. Groups of people — bridal “teams” — had been waiting for hours. We even saw someone packing up camping equipment. Many teams had matching funny headbands or matching t-shirts (note to future brides: choose something other than pink if you’d like your group to stand out). There were large posters declaring “Size 6, mermaid style,” both homemade and handed out by Slim-Fast, an event sponsor.

We walked down the line, chatting with a few groups. Some highlights:

  • A team with an “Attack Pack,” a 6 page explanation of how it all works. It included pictures to help her team know what she did and didn’t like.
  • The Royal Wedding was not missed. People starting live-streaming it and sharing with their neighbors at 5 am. Kate’s dress met with approval.
  • First in line arrived at 9:30 am… the day before. Her team drove from Dover. She also won a $250 credit to use towards a dress. Plus, it was her birthday!

At 8 am, there’s a countdown, a lot of screaming, and a stampede when the doors open. There were over 1,700 hanging up at 8:00. By the time Fedward made it to the back of the store – less than a minute later – the racks looked like this:

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Instead of hanging up, dresses were in piles. People grab as many as possible, and then a strange economic system emerges. “Looking for a size 10 ball gown. I’ll trade this size 16.” Instead of going to dressing rooms, people tried things on wherever they could find space. The company recommends wearing a swimsuit or sports bra to facilitate this, though some brides did not worry about modesty.

We wandered around a bit, trying to find people we’d spoken with earlier, but no luck. Instead, I chatted with people who worked there. Everyone agreed it was going to be a long day, but one they loved. They also all said I was smart to wait until the afternoon (though, I admit, I’d worn my swimsuit… just in case).

We left around 8:30 to get some much needed caffeine and breakfast.We saw a few groups departing, defeated. Around 9:15 we saw a team crossing the street, carrying a trophy in the form of a dress bag. After trying 30 dresses in an hour, she’d found the one, marked down from $1,800 to $700. They arrived at 3:30 am, but were still in high spirits. It made all the chaos worth it.

Did I get my dress? Did I get stampeded by brides? Find out in Part 2.

Fedward Potz moved into the District in 1999 with a four year plan and never left. He enjoys good food, craft cocktails, photography, music, and long walks on the beach.

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