The women of Alabama’s bridal shops share their stories.
Whether you are looking for a dress with a loved one, altering your grandmother’s gown, or surrounded by a bridal party waiting to see each dress come out of the fitting room, selecting a bridal gown is one of the most memorable and intimate experiences of the wedding planning process.
Today, we peer behind the curtain of the bridal shops that are dedicated to selecting beautiful gowns from dressmakers of every kind, and bringing them home for Alabama brides to wear on their wedding day. From attending bridal fashion weeks in New York to building relationships with the top designers around the world, our shop owners always have their customers in their hearts and minds. Late-night alterations, last-minute urgent requests, and decades of experience are all part of the job when you run a bridal boutique. We invited the women of some of Alabama’s best bridal shops to share their stories with us. Carol Riney of Bella’s Bridal & Formal, Carolyn and Cathy Kelley of The White Room, Ginger Nix of McClendon Bridals, and Colleen Hopwood of Bella Couture have all been there for countless brides and their families.
“What we love most is the reaction from our brides and their mothers when we reveal that our bridal shop is owned by a mother-daughter duo,” says Carolyn Kelley. “Shopping for your wedding gown is a very special moment between a mother and daughter, and this just strikes a cord with our customers.”
Every bridal shop has something different to offer, but they all share a bond of family and women empowering other women. The shops give strength to each bride to look and feel their best on their big day, and in turn, the brides support a local business that represents a life’s work and generations of entrepreneurs.
“My parents have always encouraged me to do anything that I set my mind to,” says Colleen Hopwood. “They both helped in the process of opening the store in 2006. My dad hand-crafted our counter and hung most of the satin fabric on the ceiling. My mom, sister, and I built the platforms and made the satin panels. My brother designed my logo with part of our family crest. I had a wonderful group of friends that came in on their off days and after work to help paint, finish the floors, and address every detail to make my vision of Bella Couture come to life. I even had two marriages occur in my friend group as a result of helping get the store launched.”
“McClendon Bridals exists in the space that was once my grandfather’s jewelry store,” says Ginger Nix. “The ins-and-outs of running a family business, from organizing displays to making connections with customers, is in my blood. After my grandfather passed, my mom and I wanted to keep his legacy alive by providing a great product while attracting people to our community. My grandfather sold the ring; now we’ve come full circle to sell the gown.”
At the end of every big day, love, family, and friends are the common threads that make each of us feel our most beautiful.
“We make every appointment personal. Each bride has their own bridal suite and an experienced stylist to help them find the perfect dress. We listen to each bride’s vision and help them as we walk through our showroom of over 800 wedding dresses. They can touch and feel each dress and find the ones that catch their eye. It’s almost like love at first sight!
I strive to build a team that feels like family and has the knowledge and passion to assist our brides. I love seeing our brides when they say, “Yes!” to the dress. To me, that is the best part!”
Carol Riney, Bella’s Bridal & Formal
“My grandmother worked alongside my grandfather most days in their jewelry store – that is now McClendon Bridals. Her favorite song was ‘Moonlight Serenade’ by Glenn Miller. There have been countless times this song has played at random on our speakers at the exact time a bride says, ‘Yes.’ It is often when she is sharing a special moment with her own mother or grandmother. We get chills every time and believe it is the ultimate sign that our bride has found her gown. It’s also a great reminder that my grandparents are with us and their legacy is, in fact, still alive.”
Ginger Nix, McClendon Bridals
“We have had the honor of being a part of three weddings from a special family, with one more bride to go. We have laughed with them, prayed through sickness and even cried at times. It means a lot when you get a connection not just with the bride but also with the family that brings others back to you. There are wonderful stores in Birmingham now, so to have a family choose to come back with each daughter and send others to you lets me know that we are doing what the bride deserves.”
Colleen Hopwood, Bella Couture
“As we are sitting here answering these questions, we look up and on our mantel in our living room is a little painting of two angels, which was given to us by a dear sweet bride that contacted us with a very sad situation. This bride found herself needing a new gown seven days away from her wedding. We received the phone call early one Saturday morning. Being booked for the day, I asked her to come at 6:00 pm that evening and we would find her a gown. We had plans to leave town on Sunday morning and would not return until Thursday. Carolyn stayed up all night that Saturday, taking a size 12 gown up to a size 2. The bride and her mother came to our house the next morning at 9:00 am for Carolyn to pin the hem. When we returned from our trip on Thursday, Carolyn immediately got back to work on the gown. The bride came back to our house on Thursday night and with just a few tweaks needing to be made, came back Friday night to pick up her gown. We assured the bride that we could work this out for her and we did.
That is basically who we are. If we say we can do something, we will work it out and make it happen. That little piece of artwork in our living room truly speaks to who we are. In this particular situation, we were both the bride’s and her mother’s angels.”
Cathy & Carolyn Kelley, The White Room
AW: What advice would you give every future bride as they start to plan for their bridal gown?
Bella’s Bridal & Formal: “I would tell every bride to enjoy this precious time and choose a dress that expresses who they are. Keep an open mind. Find a dress that makes you feel like the most beautiful bride in the world! We can help you do that!” Carol Riney
The White Room: “Our best nugget of advice for brides starting the process of shopping for their wedding dress, is to have an open mind. Try on styles that you might not have thought about. Gowns look one way on a hanger, but totally different on a body. And gowns may look one way on one bride and totally different on another. Just come into it with an open mind and trust us.” Carolyn Kelley
McClendon Bridals: “Style, trends, comfort, season, and venue are all great things to consider when thinking about your gown. But ultimately, it’s about the confidence and joy you feel on your day. Close your eyes and picture yourself walking toward your groom. What do you see? How do you feel? This is the true guide to discovering your gown.” Ginger Nix
Bella Couture: “Carefully consider who you bring with you to shop for your gown. For your first time shopping, bring those people that are honest but will tell you what looks fabulous on you not necessarily what they would like for themselves; the people who are your biggest advocate. If you feel like there are people that would get their feelings hurt if they are not included from the beginning, bring them back and we will act like it is your first appointment. Do some research on what type of gown you think you want but keep an open mind. As women, we are often the most critical of ourselves. You may think that you need a certain style gown to hide what you consider a figure flaw. That isn’t always the case. Often a bride will choose a gown that was not what they thought they wanted or not what they thought they needed to feel beautiful. Don’t make a pressure decision. Your gown affects your pictures which next to your Love, your gown is the only thing you have from your wedding. Lastly, have at least a rough budget set. Factor in the cost of alterations ahead of time if you have a strict budget. Most of all, enjoy yourself!” Colleen Hopwood
Photography by Lance Lenoir
Hair & Makeup by Lisa Nguyen, Erin Milkay, Caitlyn Moreno, and Joiya Pams for Makeup Mel