Sarah Patt's Short Story
There were three life-changing experiences that filled my summer months in the year 1994—what seems like a lifetime ago. First, my boyfriend was transferred to Baltimore and asked me to move in with him. Second, I became an aunt—my sister had twin daughters. And third, my boyfriend proposed once we were unpacked and settled into our Maryland apartment.
I flew back home to Boston to meet my new nieces. Their one bedroom Beacon Hill apartment stood within a stone’s throw of The State House and just a few blocks from the famous Filene’s Basement. Every April the discount department store featured wedding gowns from a variety of bridal boutiques, marked down to bargain prices. Since it was August my pickings were very slim, and my initial search was zilch. But as I stood on the ascending escalator, empty-handed, feeling a tad melancholy, gazing back down to the crowded floor, slowly disappearing from my view, an epiphany struck . . . I didn’t check under the racks for the fallen ones.
In my adolescent years my mother took me and my three sisters shopping at “The Basement”, and she always had us crawl under the racks in search of dropped clothes that could be just, “The One,” as she liked to call it —the item we loved and shook the dust bunnies off of, checked the price tag, noticed the date and gleefully acknowledged it would be marked down even more! Filene’s Basement ticketed its items with dates and the longer the item sat,
the lower the price. That was the thrill of Filene’s Basement. Cleanliness and organization wasn’t the managers’ first priority—getting the merchandise out on the floor, and giving the customers a steal—was.
So I made a U-e—returning with eagerness—pelting down the slow moving stairs. I hurried back to the eight or so tall racks that housed the wedding gowns and bent down as if I were looking for a lost earring and I hit the jackpot. There must have been a dozen gowns I shoveled out with my hands. I didn’t care if some were too big—that’s what a seamstress was for. Filene’s Basement was notorious for not having changing rooms. Shoppers knew to wear modest underwear. I wore spandex shorts and a sports bra underneath my attire, and searched for a spot to try on clothes. Luckily, there was a floor length mirror (a rarity at Filene’s Basement) adjacent to my changing spot. And yes, I found The One. Its original tag displayed the boutique it came from with its prestigious address—Newbury Street—famous for quality with a price to match. Mine was marked down from one thousand dollars to one hundred. But when the cashier rang it in, she shot me that proverbial deer caught in headlights look. “You’re not going to believe this,” she said. “It came up as $24.99!” Holy Cow! I thought. The cost of dry-cleaning and paying a seamstress to take it in will cost me more. I practically skipped out of the store grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat; strangers probably stared but I didn’t care, and my gait turned to speed walking as if I were racing to the Finish line. I couldn’t wait to model it for my sister and her two babies after awakening from their nap—that was how I managed to escape for an hour. The triumph of finding a gown at such a low price allowed me to have an Open Bar at my wedding.
In 2001 my husband and I moved back to Massachusetts with our three young children. Sadly, a decade later, Filene’s Basement closed their doors for good in 2011. However, I have passed on my Bargain Betty ways to my children and they beeline to the sale racks and clearance racks when shopping. Saving money is an important lesson to teach today’s youth and one doesn’t have to spend a fortune on clothes to look nice, especially a wedding dress.