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Bridal Brouhaha

Bridal Brouhaha
By: Angie Vineyard, Research Fellow - 7/28/2003

You’ve heard that divorce rates are high hovering at about 50 percent. You’ve heard that many couples are skipping a trip down the aisle, choosing instead to live together and keep their last names. But have you heard about the bridal brouhaha at Filene’s Basement?

As early as 4 a.m. on a Thursday in July, bleary-eyed brides many with a wedding party entourage began lining up outside Filene’s Basement in Washington, D.C. for the store’s annual bridal event. Hundreds of wedding gowns originally priced well over $1,000 were all going for $250 and these women wanted a bargain. By the time the doors opened at 8 a.m., 400 people rushed inside for a little prenuptial pandemonium.

“It was a madhouse,” said Danielle Maree, who came as early as 5:30 a.m. to help her friend find a dress. “People ran in. You had to have your track shoes on. All the dresses were off the racks in less than 5 seconds!”

Wasting no time, the quicker brides made their way to the curtained dressing areas with armloads of gowns in tow. Others grabbed a handful of satin and lace and stripped down to bras, shorts and even bathing suits to model the dresses right there on the sales floor.

But this was no solo event. Mothers, bridesmaids, sisters and friends ferried gowns back to the brides, adjusted straps, held up hair, gave opinions and raced off to scoop up other possibilities. When gowns didn’t fit, they were quickly hoisted up in the air and sizes were yelled out for anyone else to grab. Everyone wanted a dress, but everyone also wanted everyone else to find a dress.

“I’ve not heard a bad word in here,” said Frank Dorn, district manager for Filene’s Basement in Washington D.C., who arrived at 5:45 a.m. to find at least 75 people in line outside the store. “This is a real lesson in humanity,” he opined.

A handful of boyfriends and fiances stood by dazed and mystified. This was a sporting event they never knew existed. A couple of men found gowns in the right size for their women and helped with zippers or scads of buttons out of the bride’s reach.

Enthusiasm ran high at this matrimonial melee. By 8:45 a.m., the first bride carried her gown to the checkout counter, ready to make her big purchase. But each woman wasn’t just hoping to snag the perfect dress each bride was hoping this would be the last wedding gown she would ever wear.

“America doesn’t take marriage seriously,” said Victoria Stefan rather pensively for an 18-year-old, noting the high divorce rate.

The teenager from Fairfax, Virginia will walk down the aisle next June as a bridesmaid at her 23-year-old sister, Alexandria’s wedding. Victoria hesitated to say she was a fan of marriage. But was marriage in her future?

“Definitely,” she said with confidence. Couples should “deal with their problems, not giving up (with) the first problem that comes along,” the teen added for a little matrimonial advice. “It’s for better or for worse. A lot of it is for worse, so stick it out.”

Ivonne Fuller, 32, of Greenbelt, Maryland was equally cautious but also optimistic.

“Marriage is more popular than you hear in the press,” said Fuller, who plans to wed for a second time in September. “You hear about the high divorce rate but marriage is a wonderful institution. I think marriage is wildly popular.”

Leon Leftenant agreed. “It’s kind of exciting to see a lot of people thinking of getting married,” he said, looking around at women frantically trying on gowns.

The Long Island, New York native accompanied his fiancee, Kimberly Davila to help her pick out the right dress. Having met through mutual friends, this will be the first marriage for both Davila and Leftenant.

“I was just waiting for her to come along,” he said.

At the end of the day, several hundred gowns were sold and scores of women gleefully left Filene’s Basement with their prized purchases. They left with satin and lace, beaded bodices and long trains, veils, shoes and hopes for the future.

Some of them will not stay married. They’ll enjoy the “for better” part of their vows but fail to survive the “for worse” and they’ll end a union they were once overjoyed to start.

But some of these women will make it. They’ll say ‘I do’ and mean it, holding onto their vows to weather difficult times. Despite the matrimonial marathon to find the perfect gown, they understand a wedding dress is only for a day but a marriage is for a lifetime.

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