OLDSMAR — Kat Lacey wanted to help her friend find the perfect wedding dress so much that she rearranged her work schedule just so she could be the first in line at Goodwill's predawn wedding gala.
"Originally, I wanted to come at 5:30," said Rachel Condon, the bride-to-be. "And then Kat was like, 'No, girl! You gotta be there at 3:30!' "
For the last four years, hundreds of future wives have camped outside of area Goodwill Superstores in lawn chairs and sleeping bags in search of gowns, shoes, jewelry and more for a fraction of the retail price. The new dresses, worth $500 to $1,500, have gone for as low as $90.
Proceeds from the gala help offset losses to Goodwill's programs for people with developmental disabilities, spokeswoman Michael Ann Harvey said.
"Our programs for people with severe disabilities always operate at a loss, usually $1 million a year," she said. "And so our store revenues fund those."
This year's two-day extravaganza began at 6 a.m. Friday in Oldsmar, and Lacey didn't know what to expect.
"We didn't know if we were going to be running in or (what)," she said. "I had a dream that a bunch of people came out and we had black marks (under) our eyes. We were game to go."
They were also ready to do just about anything.
"We were willing to grab all the dresses in (Condon's) size and bargain with the other girls," said Lacey, 25. "It's for charity. It's all for a good cause."
The reality wasn't nearly as chaotic as Lacey envisioned.
Just before 6, Harvey told a colleague to cue Here Comes the Bride. The sliding doors parted. Seventy-five women filed inside the store single file. Employees allowed them into a gown gallery in groups of 10 to avoid a shopping melee.
Still, Condon and Lacey remained focused on their mission: a strapless dress with a train.
"I love detail," said Condon, 22.
For the next hour and a half, she and Lacey grabbed gowns off racks and shuttled between dressing rooms and mirrors. The dresses are donated by area bridal shops. One that Condon tried on required too much alteration. She wanted her future mother's-in-law input on another.
In all, Condon tried on seven dresses. Then just before 7:30, she emerged in a beaded, $1,500 Casablanca gown.
"That's pretty, Rach," said Patti Biscardi, her future mother-in-law. "I love the train on it."
"Gorgeous," said Brittany Nichols, a bridesmaid who arrived later in the morning.
The approvals settled it. Condon asked Lacey to go to her car and retrieve her purse.
"My mother and father said, 'Whatever dress you love, that's the one that they're going to get,' " Condon said.
The final cost of the $1,500 gown? $125.
"That," she said, "is awesome."
Lacey, who will be a bridesmaid at Condon's February 2011 nuptials, went to her car, changed clothes and went to work. She was scheduled to report at 8.
"I'm going to need some coffee," she said.
Times staff photographer Douglas R. Clifford and staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.