Updated: 9:37 a.m.
What strikes you first is the whoo-ing.
As the sun rose over the Mazza Gallerie in Northwest Washington, a snaking line of hundreds of women — decked out in pink taffeta, tiaras, feathers, a few t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Bride’s Bitch” in glitter — hooted and hollered, drowning out the thumping beats of Rihanna and Ke$ha blaring from a DJ booth.
The women were sisters, mothers, friends and, of course, local brides-to-be who, just after Prince William and Kate Middleton walked down the aisle in what’s being called the wedding of the century, took part in an annual wedding tradition of their own — the “Running of the Brides.”
The event, held each year at Filene’s Basement stores across the country, draws hundreds of women eager to find the wedding gowns of their dreams. According to Filene’s, racks holding heavily discounted dresses are stripped bare in less than 90 seconds -- and this year seemed to be no exception.
Within minutes, the racks -- originally filled with 1,700 dresses -- were empty save the random black or red cocktail-style dress. Shoppers and their teams grabbed gowns by the handsful and sequestered themselves in the department store’s nooks. Then, the bartering began.
As brides stripped down to tanks and spandex shorts, corseted shapewear and, in some cases, nothing, their teams members roamed the aisles, looking to make an exchange.
“Anyone need a 12 or an 8?” yelled one woman, calling out sizes, hawking the wares she had assembled in the initial rush. Yes, responded another woman who, to her chagrin, didn’t have the right size for a swap. The woman making the offer would only exchange the dress for a size 6.
“If you can hold onto a dress, even one in the wrong size, it’s the best thing you can do,” explained Sharron Pickens, 36, of Washington, D.C. “It’s the only leverage you have.”
Pickens was attending the event for the second time this morning, having experienced it for the first time last year when her sister was getting married. “She found her dress here,” said Pickens, who had gotten in line at midnight. Twenty minutes into the retail free-for-all and wearing a dress that was a good four inches away from closing in the back, she wasn’t having much luck. “I didn’t get fitted before this, so I didn’t know my size.”
Kate Michael, helping a friend find her gown, was having the opposite problem. A local blogger and former Miss D.C., Michael was wandering the aisles carrying a dress that her friend would drown in. “No one wants a size 26,” she lamented.
Filene’s estimated that about 500 dresses would be sold during the event. Some shoppers find that going to the store later in the day, after the mania has passed, is a safer bet.
Until then, the search continues.