Finding Your Yes Dress

Monte Durham of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta shares his best tips for brides-to-be. 

Illustration by Bee Murphy

Monte Durham has a lifetime of experience as a stylist and tastemaker. The fashion director of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, Durham grew up admiring Jackie Kennedy—still his design icon—and worked in fashion merchandising and hair styling before finding his niche as a bridal consultant. On Say Yes, he partners with Lori Allen of Bridals by Lori in Atlanta, one of the country’s largest full-service bridal boutiques. Durham’s distinct combination of puckish humor and impeccable style soothes brides, while his trademark “jacking up”—a Monte-ism for the donning of veil and jewelry—often brings them to tears as they see themselves in full bridal regalia for the first time. A native of West Virginia, Durham now lives in Alexandria. In addition to Say Yes, he offers private bridal consultations, runs a hair product company, and provides beauty and fashion commentary.

Which is all to say that when Durham starts talking about wedding dresses, you listen. And take notes.

Dress Trends

Monte Durham

“There will always be princess dresses,” says Durham. “Revealing, sexy dresses and quiet, romantic dresses. And everything in between. Navigating them, helping a bride choose the right one—that is the fun part of the job.”

The white wedding cliché aside, Durham estimates that 80 percent of brides choose an ivory wedding dress. Pure white is actually a hard color for many women to wear, and while colorful dresses seem like a great way to stand out, they are seldom chosen. “They don’t make a woman feel like a bride,” says Durham. “She might feel like a princess, but not a bride.” More on that in a minute.

Stylewise, today’s dresses are body conscious but not tight, with a natural waistline. The “fit and flair” silhouette is popular, meaning the bottom of the dress bells out “like a trumpet or Champagne glass, but without the distinct seam and change of fabric you see with the mermaid style.” The skirts are soft and full for a graceful appearance and ease of movement. Sweetheart necklines are universally flattering, although Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenia’s recent choices of a bateau neck and portrait collar, respectively, are inspiring brides to branch out—and to play with sleeves after decades of strapless gowns. Durham has seen simple, straight dresses create drama with bell sleeves. 

The fabric of choice is lace, often over illusion at the neckline and in a scattered design over the solid fabric of the bodice and skirt. Beading, embellishments, and embossing are always popular, although Durham sees them starting to yield to richly textured fabrics.

Style, trends, and personal taste aside, says Durham, “I can tell you what will look great on you or be perfect for your venue. But I can’t tell you how a dress will make you feel. You are shopping for a very special dress, a dress with a purpose. You will wear it to get married. It’s OK to feel sexy or beautiful, but at the end of the day, you have to feel like a bride. When a dress feels fantastic—when you feel like a bride in a dress—then that’s the one for you. 

“It’s OK to fall in love with two or three dresses,” he adds with a laugh, “but you only take one home: the one that makes you feel like a bride.”

Rime Arodaky Fall 2019, Harmony by Matthew Christopher, and Pure Palais Dress by Kavier Gauche Fall 2019.

The Trunk Show Trick

Bridal magazines and Pinterest boards can help you find styles you admire. But what happens if you fall in love with a particular dress? How can you track it down, knowing that not every store gets every dress? “Check the designer’s website to see which stores in your area will be hosting a trunk show,” advises Durham. “Then contact the store to see if they’ll be getting the dress or to request it be sent with the rest of the designs.” What about those famously small sample sizes? “Trunk show samples are usually size 6 or 8,” says Durham, “but even if a dress doesn’t fit, you can see the fabric and design in person and discuss changes with the designer’s representative.”

Beyond the Veil

“Brides love when their veil matches the lace on their dress!” says Durham. That said, wearing a veil is a personal choice. Many brides go with a decorative headpiece instead—or skip it altogether and leave their heads bare. Brides who wear a veil for the ceremony usually take it off for the reception, so be sure your hairstyle works for both looks.

Things Get Hairy

Let’s face it: when your hair is down, it’s usually either flat or frizzy. Either way, it’s a distraction. When you’re shopping for a dress, says Durham, pull your hair back. That will help you focus on the dress instead of your increasingly messy hair. 

Once you’ve chosen a dress, find reference photos and work with your stylist to choose a look that will work during all parts of the big day. Many brides choose a half up, half down style that looks good both with and without the veil. Durham recommends a loose ballet knot or chignon for a clean, crisp look that will stay put all day. “You’ll have a lot of things to worry about—your hair shouldn’t be one of them,” he says.

This article originally appeared in our Weddings 2019 issue. Want more Monte? Click here for his tips on transitioning your style from the ceremony to the reception.

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