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Running of the Brides, My Story of Survival
There are some people out there who'd rather not take the easy road, who blaze their own trail, and aren't afraid to get their hands a little dirty. I had those very sentiments when I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, strapped on my corset, and drove to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston to attend Filene's Basement's Running of the Brides last spring. This stunt was part of my 'Can Andi French Try on 100 Wedding Dresses in One Year' campaign. I did come close to trying on that many dresses in one year, but my pregnancy put a halt on that somewhere around 70 dresses. The experience was not lost, here, however.
I've seen the 45 second slots for the Running of the Brides on my local news stations in the past years. I looked at those ladies as if they were crazy, just like everyone else sitting comfortably on their couches watching the news. But my own impending wedding, added with the initial online wedding dress perusal sticker shock, made me think that this was something I should definitely do.
The ROTB event nearest me was to be on a drizzly, cold, Friday in March. Even though I have an enormous wedding party, the day just didn't work out for alot of people so we were a team of 4: My Stepmother Kathy, my best friend Bonnie, and my best gay friend Brian. I made us purple t-shirts that said "Team Sassy Pants." We all got up super early and were on the road into Boston from Salem together.
Getting there was not a problem. We drove by the line to get in at 5am and it wasn't that bad. The first malfunction of the day was parking. Trying to find a place to park got us lost for an hour, and in that time I wanted to punch my GPS in the face if my GPS were to have a face. By the time we got into the line to wait to get in, it was at least 50 people longer. The plus side was that the slimfast reps were there handing out samples and coupons. Tip #1 take everything that's free. Even if you don't plan to eat 12 slimfast snack bars while you're in line, you will eventually, sometime in the future. Pack them away. Those extra bars became my lunch for two weeks. People also hand out cards for wedding vendor services. Those are good to collect too, because even if you don't plan on using them, they are a good way to compare prices, and may come in handy as a bargaining chip.
We stood outside for another hour before the staff allowed the ladies to enter the building, but not the event site. Once inside, the event planners had the people waiting play games, like "wrap the bride in toilet paper" for a chance to move to the front of the line. Despite that, the atmosphere verged on frantic. A fight here or there broke out in line. The planners had us move up closer to the door, but told us not to push because we're not going in yet. This made me nervous because I was sure we might be pressed to death. They came around several times to do this, all the while cautioning not to start running, then one time after they asked us, the people ahead of us did start running. Because the planners lied, and the doors were opened. I had no idea what was going on until people behind me started running ahead of me. I was telling them to stop, and to follow rules until I looked up and Kathy was already running ahead. Tip #2 Rules are largely not followed or enforced. One of the rules I had followed that day was not to wear make up. But I was the only one there looking haggard. Most of the brides had costume make up on anyway to go along with their garish team costumes... so, if you want to look decent for the cameras (and there will be cameras) go ahead and put on that undereye concealor.
I was probably about the 150th person in the door, and as I was walking through, I literally saw people tearing armfuls of dresses off of racks. A man in front of me pushed me out of the way to get the last dress off of one rack. I spun around in a daze for a moment until my eyes fell upon a lone dusty rose colored wedding dress lingering on one spaghetti strap, half off the hanger. I grabbed it, and held on to it for dear life, as I desperately looked around for Kathy, Bonnie, and Brian. I looked for them for ten minutes. I was alone. Around me dresses flew through the air, dresses were being piled up on the floor in conquest piles, girls were dragging floor length mirrors all of the place, and there were reporters everywhere snapping pictures and filming. The dress in my hands was unfortunately hideous but for lack of something better to do, I put it on. I stripped down to my corset and decorated boyshorts and put this ugly dress on. A reporter came over to me and took my picture while I struggled to zip myself in. She gave me a flower to hold in my teeth, but quickly found something better to photograph when a fight broke out nearby. A timid looking girl, weeping in despair over not getting a single dress, stole a dress out of someone else's pile, and a third party girl, unrelated to the girl with the pilfered pile, cussed her out and yanked the dress out of her hands. Such melodrama. You'd think we were in Communist Russia in line to get bread rations. Also note, not everyone taking pictures is a reporter. There will also be alot of wedding photographers there pretending to be reporters. They'll take your picture and then hand you a card. I'd tell them thanks, but no thanks, you're taking pictures of me in my underwear, I don't need you there when I say "I do."
Tip #3 You're going to be undressing in front of everyone, wear something that won't make you feel too uncomfortable... And shave things. I recommend the corset. I got one for short money at Kohl's It sounds uncomfortable to someone who's never put one on, but it's not that bad. Just try it on before you buy it to make sure it fits properly. A properly fitting corset will give you the right amount of coverage so that your jiggly parts don't jangle.
I met up with my party not too long after that. Both Kathy and Brian had managed to get one dress. It's important to get as many dresses as possible, even if you don't want them, because you need them to bargain with. To a rational person, this sounds insane, but you have to know that this event is devoid of sanity. So I was up 3 dresses. Mine was ugly, Brian's was ugly, ripped, and the wrong size, and Kathy's was certainly pretty, but I wasn't planning on wearing a 20's inspired champagne dress. But they were mine... for the time. I scoped out a centralized location and was ready to barter. I looked around at my neighbors. They all had 12 attendants and about 50 dresses in stock piles. I asked one camp, after noticing an interesting dress on the floor in their cast-off pile, if I could try it on and their reply was, "What do you have for us?" I showed them my meager supply and they laughed at me, and told me to come back when I had something they'd want to see.
Tip #4 This event brings out the absolute worst in womankind. Have a thick skin, or don't come here. That same camp I was referring to: later on that day, the bride found the dress she wanted, and actually purchased it, and her team still would not release the cast-offs. They had some weird power trip going on where they wanted people to beg to take one of their dresses away. Again, one of the rules is that if you have a dress that you don't want, you should put it back on the racks for someone else. Again, the rules are ignored.
When a scout came buy enquiring about a specific size, the ripped dress I was holding on to fit the range, and I gave it up, no groveling required. And that scout came back running to give me something to try on in return. There were acts of kindness in the abyss but they were few and far between. When a bride makes a purchase, everyone around her claps for her. That was nice... but even that was kinda fake.
I sent Brian out as a scout because he's a guy, and guys stood a better chance in talking camps out of their dresses. He was so good that he got other guys to leave their camps and come work for me. Suddenly I was surrounded by a pack gay guys throwing dresses at my feet. I felt like a princess.
As the day went on, I'd say about 2 hours after the doors had opened, more and more dresses had started going back on the racks. All of the terse negotiations for dresses were all for nothing, really. So I kept on trying more and more dresses on. The dresses all fit weirdly, had stains, or rips on them, and all smelled funny. And they were all sorta ugly. I wanted to go to the ROTB because I thought I'd find last seasons extras and sample size sales. I also thought that some of the dresses may have been used in recent fashion shows. I had lofty expectations. I thought I was going to get a really unique dress for a fraction of the original asking price. The dresses I tried on, and the dresses I saw people buying were really out dated looking, the designer names were mostly unrecognizable, and they all needed extensive repairs. The prices really didn't justify the purchase. The price range for all of the dresses starts at $299, and the most expensive dresses are $699. If you walked into an Alfred Angelo shoppe, you could get a brand new, unsmelly dress, for $650, without the hassle. Which leads me to...
Tip #5 Know when to call it a day. After trying on 30 or 40 dresses, I realized that my dress wasn't here and my team was getting so depressed because they couldn't help me find "The One". We found the "Almost Awesome" one, and the "That's Kinda Nice" one, but not "The One". I stood there, nearly naked, looking around me. I had gotten minimal sleep, courted pneumonia waiting outside in the rain, was hungry, dirty, and feeling ridiculous wearing my daughter's princess tiara to get into the spirit of the day. I was pushed and shoved, and photographed in my underwear. I was made to grovel by a large group of young ladies wearing bunny ears for their "trash." I spent so much energy trying to build up my pile, not unlike a adelie penguin hoarding rocks, only to see that it was unnecessary. I was angry at myself. Was I not an adult? Was I not a self-possessed woman who generally acted according to appropriate social etiquette? But there I was, with my blackened feet, feeling so disgusting for having tried on dresses that hundreds of girls before me had tried on. I said I had had enough. I gave my dresses to a staff member gathered my team and took them out for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. Then I went home and scrubbed myself in a hot shower. I am a grown-ass woman. Why did I put myself through that?
Skip ROTB if you are like me and don't need all of the silly shit just to get a cheap dress. And it's not really a cheap dress. A week later I was in a wedding boutique where the shop owner was repairing and altering a dress for someone who had bought it at ROTB. She got the dress for $299, had it cleaned, added length, fixed the straps, altered the neckline, and added purple trim. All that cost an additional $500. The owner was shaking her head. A friend of mine knows someone who could build the dress from scratch for less than that.
You might want to go to the ROTB just to bond with your girlfriends over your upcoming wedding; again, there are more fruitful and less stressful ways to do that. Take them out for cake sampling, or wine tasting. Or... take them to a shooting range. Anything else is better. While waiting outside in line, it was nice to see all of the teams in their team colors with their team mascots, and their high spirits. It looked like a big old slumber party that spilled into the morning. But when those doors open, those same teams of girls you've just been chatting with for over an hour will gladly trample you to get in that door before you.
Sheer curiosity lead me to the ROTB. I got it out of my system now. I'm I'm glad that I did it because it was something I didn't know about and I went and experienced it. I won't do it again, and I don't recommend it, but if you simply must go, here are more things to know:
1. Get as many people to go with you as you can and assign jobs. You need scouts to find you dresses to try that you'd like and are in your size range. You need negotiators that will let your dresses go for the right swap, a person to zip you up and tell you how you look, and you need a bodyguard (or two) to hold your credit card and guard your pile.
2. When the doors open you might separate from your team. If you have advanced knowledge of the space the event will be held in, then designate your meeting place by landmark. If not, then use the old "2 o'clock from the doors." You don't want to aimlessly wander around this airplane hanger sized space in a pink wedding dress holding your jeans and t-shirt.
3. Pack lightly. Bring some snacks in disposable bags for your team to eat while waiting in line. Don't bring your usual ginormus pocket book. You only need a handbag big enough to carry your credit card, cash, license, and phone. Give this bag to the person in your group that is not good at running. Before the doors open, have this person step out of line you can meet up with them after everyone else is in. Also, you might want to consider bringing a full length mirror with you because space in front of a mirror is prime real estate, more on that next. Give the mirror to the bagholder. Pack with you some flip flops so you are not walking around the space barefoot... like me. Also, if your bagholder has enough room and you plan on wearing heels to your wedding, pack some heels so you can see how the hem of the dress will fall. But wear your sneakers for the dash inside.
4. Where to set up camp. Try to get as close as you can to the staging where the dress cleaner people are, because they have huge mirrors. If that is not an option, set up next to the biggest group, they will have many cast-offs right away, and hopefully will not be stingy with them. Send your most charming people out as scouts to sweet talk them.
5. If you don't get a dress right away, relax, it's not the end of the world. Just be patient, someone's gotta get rid of a dress sometime. Grab that ugly dress and trade up. Send your scouts out when you hear the clapping that signifies that someone found their dress. They might just abandon their whole stockpile right there.
6. Don't try to squeeze yourself into a dress that is too small. It's easier for seamstresses and tailors to take a dress in than to let it out. It won't be worth it to pay for all that reconstruction. Give the small dresses to the skinny bitches and save your dignity. Also, it's good to know that there is a lack of average dress sizes. I'm normally between a 6 and an 8 in regular sizes. In wedding dress world that puts me at about a 12 or 14. I found dresses that were 8's and 10's and nothing until after size 22. I came very close to buying that interesting red wedding dress, but what you can't see in the picture is that I couldn't zip it up. The dress cleaner people had me all clipped in. I still would have bought the dress regardless of that because I was bent on getting a red dress, and this one met my requirements, but I didn't love the bodice... and it was $599. It would have cost alot to change the bodice.
7. Be kind. Don't behave badly. When you see dresses going back on the racks, put the ones you have back that are absolutely not for you. Seriously, the girls that were mean to me and everyone else will probably rot in hell, so, don't be those girls.
8. If you think you've found the right dress, before declaring victory, spend some time in that dress. Take pictures and put them up on facebook and twitter and get your friends' opinion. Walk around in it for a while. If you're walking past other camps and they are gushing over you, then you might have the right one. The atmosphere of the day can make you do crazy things. I came so close to buying that red dress because I wanted to leave winning. I wanted to feel accomplished. I was being impulsive. But... I did spend some time in that dress. And I did put the picture on facebook. My friends LOVED it. But the more I looked at myself the more I thought, "This dress was built for someone with a tiny tiny waistline and big, huge, enormous tits. Honestly, who's boobs are that big?" So, sadly, I took it off and put it back on the rack. I left shortly after that. But I left winning anyway. I didn't buy a dress I shouldn't have.
9. If all of the hoopla isn't for you, then consider showing up in the afternoon when hundreds of dresses are returned to the racks and people are less frantic. I left around 1pm and the girls strolling in at that time were holding coffees, looking warm, dry, and well rested. The event starts with roughly around 2,000 dresses, about 500 people rush inside for the opening, of that 500, a fraction are actually brides looking for a dress. So there will be plenty of dresses to try on later in the day. They tell you that, but I wonder... given the condition of the dresses that are there, I would say that some, if not most, of the dresses are very old and are probably packed up and moved from event to event. I mean some of the dresses that passed my way look like they stepped off of the pages of 'Brides' circa 1989. There may only be 50 or so new additions added to each event and the first ladies in the door find them. Coming later might just be something the event planners tell you to do just to get you to come. Who knows?
So good luck, brave soul. May you find the perfect dress, and if you don't... get married on the beach and wear something more casual.
The Globe spelled Brian's name wrong.