It was 4 a.m. and raining — hard.
I sat on a blue sleeping bag on the sidewalk with no food, sleep or shower.
Definitely the opposite of a blushing bride.
With two girlfriends in tow, I camped out Friday in front of the Goodwill store on Central Avenue in search of a wedding dress.
Each year Goodwill Industries-Suncoast hosts a wedding gala, selling dresses donated by local bridal boutiques at a fraction of the cost. The dresses ranged from $60 to $375.
Darla Cameron, a St. Petersburg Times news artist who is engaged, joined the hunting party Thursday.
"I need to face my fear of weddings or wedding culture," she said. "It turns women into crazy bridezillas."
Nicole Norfleet, a Times business news intern who is happily unattached, would pull dresses. We'd wear camisoles and running shorts to make trying dresses on easier.
We drove by the store at 3365 Central Ave. around midnight. Only four women were lined up. Back to bed.
Hours later we returned. Darla and I compared wedding notes while Nicole took a nap.
We were as different as our footwear. She wore hiking sandals; I wore gold and rhinestone sandals. Darla plans to get married Texas-style with barbecue and cowboy boots. I want a genteel backyard Southern wedding — parasols and sweet tea — in Atlanta.
But we had one thing in common: the dress.
The J.Crew "Sophia" was perfect. Its long silk bodice is simple and unadorned but elegant and classic.
But we needed to make sure there wasn't something better out there.
Outside, mothers, sisters, friends and even aunts from Ocala chatted about the impending nuptials. Homesickness quickly set in.
"Don't worry. Our moms would be here," Darla said.
At 6:01 a.m. the doors flung open, and we walked into a blitz of wedding items. I slowed to look at ivory shoes.
"Stay focused," Nicole said. "We're only here for a dress."
Women scattered across the floor as they entered, snatching up dresses as they went. There was no pushing, no elbowing. Everything was orderly as brides-to-be swapped dresses amicably.
Trying on wedding dresses is an ordeal suitable for the Ironman. Each dress was weighed down by yards of fabric. Zippers never seemed to close. A size 6 could fit like a glove or swallow a woman whole.
Each dress was a blur of beads and bustles, tulle and trains. The dresses were more "Jackie No" than Jackie O. I looked on with envy as women appeared princesslike in dresses I had passed over. I could see them falling in love in the mirror.
"We have a sale," a sales person shouted each time a bride found her dress. I started feeling left out.
I picked up a sheath dress by Demetrios. On the hanger, it was nothing special.
"At least try it," Nicole said.
Minutes later, I was still marveling at it in the mirror. It was nothing like "the dress." This dress was only $180, a relative steal. It was nearly everything I thought I didn't want: beads, lace and strapless. And I couldn't take it off.
After preening in a display mirror and being pushed to try on a veil, I headed back to the dressing room. I liked the dress, but I didn't feel like a bride, just a sleep-deprived 21-year-old.
After 45 minutes of stripping off clothes and shimmying into nearly a dozen 30-pound dresses, Darla gave me an exasperated look.
Time to go.
I left deflated. The sales chant followed us out. Bride after bride was giddy with her purchase. Just not these brides.
"It was a good start," said Nicole, our voice of reason.
She was right. We plunged in head first and came out unscathed.
The right dress is still out there.
Jackie Alexander can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or [email protected]