On a gray morning, just outside of Washington, D.C., hundreds of women, and a few brave men, have been waiting for hours. Arriving as early as 8:30 the night before, these women have one goal.
These brides-to-be, and their teams of friends and family, are competing for designer wedding dresses at rock-bottom prices.
They come to Filene's Basement's "Running of the Brides," as the annual wedding dress sale has come to be known in the past 60 or so years.
Filene's employee Pat Boudrot -- a veteran of more than 50 such stampedes, or sales -- has watched the ritual evolve. "It's more than just the purchase," she says. "It's become sort of a rite of passage, or part of the wedding planning experience."
For Tiffany, the first bride in line, it's all about the dress. "We had to be the first in line. I had to find the perfect dress," she said before the doors opened. Tiffany and her team even came the night before to map out where mirrors were located in the store.
But to get that dress, women need to come prepared. Most show up with whole teams of family and friends, even some fiancés, to find that perfect dress.
As the competition has evolved, so have the "uniforms." Brides add all kinds of flair to denote their team, from cowbells and whistles to pink cowboy hats and bright bandanas. Many teams even had custom-made T-shirts for the event.
At 8 a.m. sharp, the doors finally open and the brides are off and running. There's reason to run. Some of the dresses up for grabs retail for as much as $9,000, but at the sale, they can go for as little as $250.
In less than two minutes, hundreds of dresses are stripped from the racks. The bride and her team load up as many dresses as their arms can carry, and fan out to all corners of the store.
Let's Make a Deal
As the brides strip down to try on their wares, the waiting team members take her discarded dresses, hoping they can find another team willing to make a deal.
The main concerns are all the usuals -- size, style and color -- but one bride worried her dress might be too tight to limbo in on the big day. The din of the trading is only interrupted by the occasional yelp of a lucky lady who has found her gown.
"You can't go wrong with a wedding dress for $250," said bride-to-be Jennifer Varriale. Her teammate explained their strategy: "It pays to be nice," she said. "We made an alliance with the people behind us. So all of us went to one thing, and we pooled all the dresses, and then ended up trading with the girl in line behind us."
Unfortunately, as with most competitions, some walk away without their prized dress. Tiffany, the first bride in line, was not one of the lucky ones today. "Maybe we jinxed ourselves by going first," she said.
Twelve hours in line and 80 dresses later, Team Tif is going home empty-handed. At least she can tell her children, many years from now, that one fine spring day, she ran with the brides.