Wear the dress, keep the memories

If you’ve seen the spectacle that is the Running of the Brides, you know about the annual event where about 1,000 women abandon their manners and good fashion sense to get a deal on a wedding dress.

But it’s more than the discount that draws mothers, sisters, friends and relatives to Filene’s Basement every year. It’s also a chance to bond during one of Atlanta’s biggest slumber parties.

Last year, I gathered a group that included my mom, my sister and several of my best girlfriends to help me find a dress for my October wedding. I’d been to the boutiques and knew I wasn’t willing to pay a $1,000-plus for a designer gown.

We lined up at 3 a.m. armed with coffee, camping chairs and Cheetos. My sister made us orange shirts that said “Who gone check me, boo!?” in honor of spunky Atlanta housewife Sheree Whitfield. We wore obnoxious headbands so we could spot one another inside.

I got my gown at the bargain price of $500, but I also got a lot of great memories. My day has come and gone, and now my beat-up wedding dress is hanging in my attic, waiting to be cleaned and preserved, or whatever it is you’re supposed to do with an expensive gown you’ll never wear again.

On Friday, the cycle started again, with a new slew of brides showing up for the sale in hopes of finding the perfect gown.

Heather Walker, Atlanta

One of Walker's sisters drove up from Pensacola, Fla., to help the energetic bride find a dress for her Oct. 15 Atlanta wedding. The ladies secured a good spot in line by arriving at 9 p.m. Thursday. That left plenty of time to people watch -- Walker said the cops were called after neighbors got into an argument where chicken nuggets were thrown. But it also left time for Walker's sister Kendra Battle to dish out marriage advice.

"I've been married for 15 years ...," Battle said. "She's got my number on speed dial."

Kayla Smith, Fort Payne, Ala.

Smith's future mother-in-law, Kim Hellums, suggested the bride look for her dream mermaid-style dress at the Running of the Brides. The women brought along a team of helpers who drove two hours to Atlanta to line up at 9 p.m. Thursday. They sported custom-made bright pink shirts and bright green wigs and promised to be on their best behavior, meaning no pushing, no tripping and no elbow throwing.

"I hope she gets the dress of her dreams, but even if she doesn't, we've still had a ball," Hellums said. "I am so excited to have her in our family. She's a good girl and we love her like our own."

Jamie Ledoux, Tallahassee

Unlike other brides-to-be, Ledoux and her friend Cheryl Roberts didn't try to be first in line Friday. Instead they arrived at 7:30 a.m., about 30 minutes before doors opened, but she was still one of the first to leave with a dress. The racks were cleaned by the time the duo got inside, but they carefully stalked brides looking for the perfect discard. Ledoux found it -- a sweetheart neckline with a mermaid bottom.

"It was a four-hour drive and we got here at midnight," she said. "But we did it for the experience. It's a way to make memories."