Confessions From A Bridal Sample Sale

If you were driving through downtown L.A. in the wee hours of Sunday morning (say, 3AM) and spotted a woman with a giant engagement ring sleeping in a tent outside a nondescript warehouse, it wasn’t me. It was the girl who scored a $20,000 wedding gown for $2,000 later that morning.

You see, there was a Monique Lhuillier sample sale in Los Angeles this past weekend, where brides (and their mothers, sisters, friends, grandmothers, and even a few fiances and one very confused grandfather) descended upon Grand Avenue in hopes of snagging their dream dress for up to 90 percent off the original price. There were even a few wedding planners attending on behalf of their brides who lived too far away.

Here’s the deal: The big sale happens twice a year. It’s announced only 1.5-2 weeks beforehand through select blogs and word of mouth (and people still line up the night before). A very intimidating security guard hands you a wristband with a number on it when you get in line, because line-cutting aggression has been so out of control in the past, the police have been called. Only 40 people are allowed inside at any given time. Some of the dresses are stores’ samples, or samples from the runway; others are brand new, from weddings canceled before the bride could wear it. There’s even Ready to Wear/non-bridal; you can score a green fur vest that once was nearly $5,000 for only $500! You can only take four items in the dressing room at a time. There’s no air conditioning, so bring Gatorade and snacks. No public restrooms. No negotiations. No alterations on site. All sales final. First come, first serve. Black Friday ain’t got nothing on Bride Sunday. May the force be with you.

As a soon-to-be bride and a human, I find the idea of spending as much on a dress as one would for a car or down payment on a home insane. So, I was particularly excited about the possibility of landing a designer dress for as low as $200. I arrived much later than that first girl in line (i.e. when it was light outside and I’d been able to down three lattes), but there were still plenty of deals to be had and drama to be witnessed by the time I was escorted up the elevator and into Wedding Dress Mania.

While perusing the racks of tulle, silk and sequins, the first thing I noticed was the room was packed with security guards. Confused (it’s not like you can sneak a ballgown into your purse), I asked a sales rep why. She replied that the security guards were for them, the people working the event; they’d had too many problems with brides taking issue with the “No Hoarding Dresses In A Pile In the Corner” and the “Seriously. No More Than 4, I Repeat 4, Dresses In The Dressing Room Rule.” (“Bridezilla” is apparently a very real and serious mental illness, y’all.) So, security guards to protect the sales reps. Okay.

I quickly realized this was a necessity. The girl who’d brought her grandpa was a true rebel, and would not stop piling dresses in the corner for her poor grandfather to guard while she was in the dressing room with 4 of the gowns; he’d get in trouble, the dresses would be replaced on the racks, she’d return to pile them up again. And again. Others would come out of the dressing room wearing a gown so no one else could grab it, while they elbowed through the racks, searching for an even better deal. There were stressed out men on cell phones, clutching pictures of the dress they were meant to look for, and mothers snapping at their daughters, “We’re not leaving until you pick one. This ends today.

BUT, the most shocking thing wasn’t the crazy shenanigans I was expecting; it was that this behavior was the exception, not the rule. Most of the women there were so thrilled to be getting a couture gown for non-celeb/royalty prices, there was a feeling of camaraderie; girls would compliment each other in the communal dressing room, share the racks and happily hand off dresses that didn’t fit to another bride. There was even one fiancé who offered to pay the difference in his love’s budget, so she could afford her dream dress.

As fun as it was to try on a $10,000 gown discounted to $500, at the end of the sweaty and exhausting day, I didn’t buy a dress. (And when I exited the building, the crowd erupted into cheers because it meant one more person could go in. At that point, the wait was only 3 hours!) I still have a little over a year until my wedding and am not sure what I want yet, nor did I want to buy without my mom with me. But, now I know I should have her come to town when the winter sample sale rolls around; perhaps someone will have even bought the tent my fiancé registered for, so we can line up the night before and sleep on the streets, like any dedicated bride on a budget would. Let’s remember there will be $20,000 dresses to be had for 90 percent off, and, hey, a girl can dream.