Of the Bridal Event at Filene’s Basement, Downtown Crossing, Ten Years Ago

I used to feel that I would just fly directly off the Down escalator one day, following a curving trajectory directly into Filene’s Bargain Basement like an Archangel Gabriel, and land directly into that Purgatory of Lunch-Hour-Lost. Rather than seek a sandwich at noon, I trawled below grade for Versace.

That was an ordinary day, in the heart of Boston.

Once, though, as I alighted, I was greeted by a sea of white, ivory and pearl. The formerly orderly aisles of gabardine suits and sensible wools had been swamped with a high tide of tulle, satin and silk. Swimming in this frothy ocean of hopes and dreams, I realized: it was Filene’s Basement’s Annual Wedding Dress Sale. I have never worn a wedding dress. Delighted, I plunged in.

Some, like me, slashed through this sea of white in the business-dress standard of black, black, and black again, evoking a vision more of Franz, than of Calvin, Kline. Others of the dark figures drew curves, not lines. They were the bent grandmothers of the brides, bossing and fussing. They peered intensely from under black and flowered headscarves at the fall of the white bridal veils…. They thumbed hems with their gnarled knuckles while they calculated alterations. With these come the rest of the family hierarchy —joyful but brisk mothers, brooding sisters, and only one bored little brother who wrestled with shame.

One brave, lonesome man stood at the very perimeter of the immense sale, holding his fiancé’s coat. She fished for compliments; he summoned opinions manfully; I imagined their kisses at the rail, windblown on their 25th anniversary cruise.

Hundreds of diverse brides—lumpen, slim, young, middle-aged, and one elegant dame who must have been 75—slithered in and out among the shining steel racks. Some of the brides flashed by me in their skin-tight running shorts and sports bras—they came in little else but coats in the freezing cold. There was a serious, intense focus on The Fit, on the number of Buttons, on the issue of Lace. Some lingered in a single dress; some raced through their candidate gowns horded by bridesmaids. I wondered if their styles of choosing dresses reflected their style of choosing husbands.

There were four-foot-tall islands stacked high with tulle and satin, scattered like wrestlers’ corners and placed at intervals all about the ½ acre underground fluorescent warehouse. They were guarded by the brides’ glaring, ferocious warrior maiden hordes. Others worked alone, and perhaps some felt a budget gown was more prudent for a second–or even third– wedding. I was suspicious that some of them had no fiancé at all. I wondered if the ones shopping alone would thrive…whether they were nervously seeking bargain-basement blessings and wholesale reassurances.

Still, I felt a bittersweet elation. To marry these days is to utterly fly into the face of cynics, scientists and old wives. (I’m all three.) None of us are fooled by the opalescent fantasy. The gowns are wrestled into reality. We all know it takes backbone, not whalebone, to do this thing. My hunch was that the brides that day were wise, and blessed. Like Gabriel, I sent up a prayer with them, and stepped onto the Up escalator, empty-handed.

 

 

 

 

image:  Asset forfeiture, CC 2.0

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