by Kim Dishongh & Lisa Fischer

June, traditionally, is the month for weddings. There’s a lot that goes into not only planning the big day but also in preparation for the proposal. While some couples choose a small, quaint ceremony on a beach, many choose extravagant nuptials and receptions worthy of high society.

So what goes into planning the big day? Will it be easy and effortless or painstakingly planned out to the smallest detail? 

Planning a wedding can induce stress, but AY’s Bridal Guide has consulted wedding experts to give their thoughts on the best venues, where to buy wedding dresses and bridesmaid’s gowns and what to serve guests. Their advice can help slow the maddening rush of the wedding-planning process. If there’s a wedding in your or someone close’s future, refer to this guide to help plan and prepare for the event of a lifetime.

the RING

In the past year, Erin Whelan of Cecil’s Fine Jewelry in Little Rock has seen several couples choose simple metal solitaire engagement rings.

“Before, I would sell one or two of those a year,” she says. “They are really liking the stacking bands with them this year, and sometimes people introduce different colors in with the bands.”

She has also seen more people choose yellow gold in the past year, a change from the white gold brides have chosen more often in the past.

Women sometimes arrive alone to browse engagement rings before they are engaged; sometimes they shop with their grooms-to-be. Occasionally a man comes in on his own, hoping to surprise his beloved with the ring of her dreams.

Whelan does her best to make the experience relaxing and comfortable for customers as they consider their options.

“We just try to educate them so they can find the prettiest ring and whatever stone they’re looking for that’s comfortably in their budget and something that will be beautiful that she will love,” Whelan says.

Laura Stanley of Laura Stanley Personal Jeweler offers designing and consulting in wedding and all types of jewelry, in a concierge setting, where her three decades of experience shine. 

She is happy to restore or repair your heirloom jewelry, and Laura is most qualified jewelry appraiser in central Arkansas, offering while-you-wait, drop-off, or home pick-up services. 

And for your special occasions, Laura will help create or find just the right selection that makes your heart beat faster just thinking about it. 

Sissy’s Log Cabin, where “life is too short for ordinary jewelry,” is an ultimate destination for many couples as their wedding day approaches.

“We have an enormous collection of one-of-a-kind pieces, and we do an amazing amount of custom work. We’re delivering custom jobs basically every day. So if it’s not in the showcase we will build you your dream piece,” says store manager Jim Englehorn. “Today’s bride doesn’t want cookie cutter jewelry; they want something different. They want something no one else has. And that’s our specialty.”

Sissy’s has a huge collection of wedding bands, along with pearls, which are a traditional wedding gift for the mother of the bride.

While men used to walk into the store and simply select the millimeter width of their plain, yellow gold wedding bands, they are now choosing from pieces made of Damascus steel, woodgrain and meteorite. 

Englehorn says Rolex watches are the new “man’s engagement ring.” 

“The girl gets a beautiful diamond, and the guy gets a beautiful timepiece,” he says. “It has become the new trend and will give him an heirloom to pass along someday.”

the STATIONERY

By Invitation Only isn’t just any stationery store. It’s the one brides have used since Erin Brady first opened her charming shop in the Heights some 16 years ago. 

“I pride myself on relationships,” Brady says. “When someone comes in, it’s like walking into my house.”

The first thing she recommends, once all the important questions have been asked, is to call her store and make an appointment. This is where brides-to-be meet with Brady and her staff and start daydreaming. The first step is to order save the date cards and thank you notes. Brady and her staff are experts on all things bridal etiquette, and she says, “People want to know if they’re doing things properly.”

By Invitation Only has seen customers from many states, and internet sales haven’t disrupted Brady’s business.

“We had our best year last year. People still want to feel and touch the weight of the paper.” 

By Invitation Only offers services one cannot get online. Don’t just pull out a book or choose from a template on a screen and order something. Get something uniquely you for your big day.

the FLOWERS

Most brides have ideas, before they meet with a florist, of what they want the flowers for their wedding and reception to look like, and the people at Tanarah Luxe Floral roll out innovative designs to give them what they want, and then some.

“We are in customer service, and because it’s about a relationship and service, we take what they’ve brought, and we try to broaden it,” says Tanarah’s Steven Berardesca.

Silks A Bloom in Little Rock offers high-end faux botanicals and fresh florals.

“For events, we do almost exclusively fresh,” says co-owner Dale Aldridge.

Aldridge says brides this year love vibrant colors, sometimes tempered by paler blushes, peaches and corals.

“Our love for design, impeccable customer service and wealth of talent has made the company one of Little Rock’s top names in floral,” Aldridge says. “Our design team strongly believes in continually evolving and designing outside the box.” 

the DRESS

Low’s Bridal has been one of the most renowned bridal boutiques in the South for more than 42 years. This elegant and inviting boutique is located in a restored 1913 hotel, which is listed on The National Register of Historic Places. Approximately 2,500 wedding dresses, in sizes 2-34, are featured in the grand setting with sparkling chandeliers, including the chandelier from the famous Marion Hotel. A true luxury experience awaits every bride-to-be as she drives through the gated entrance and walks up the red carpet. 

“Today’s brides are looking for a wide variety of styles, including boho lace sheaths to simple elegant flowing dresses to royal ball gowns,” says Dorcas Prince, owner of Low’s Bridal. “We are also well known for our vast plus-size boutique area with rooms filled with over 650 dresses from sizes 16-34. The plus-size boutique is located upstairs with dressing rooms for each size area.”

SASSAFRAS SPRINGS

the VENUE

Cross Iron Cottage in Glen Rose, a 30-minute drive from both Little Rock and Hot Springs, was built in 2016, though it looks like it has existed for centuries.

Owner Tonia Griffin designed the English bridal cottage and filled it with treasures, like 19th Century stained glass and a fireplace mantle created from an 1870 pump organ. There is a bookcase with a window seat built around double windows, in the spirit of traditional English architectural design.

Couples can choose china and crystal from France, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Japan and England. 

Brides can dress upstairs and stroll down a wooden staircase before crossing through the Moon Gate, which represents the circle of eternal love, on their way to a ceremony in the open chapel. 

Sassafras Springs Vineyard and Winery in Fayetteville is the only triple-winner for the 2018 “Best Wedding Venue” in Northwest Arkansas.  The 70-plus-acre estate setting has the old world charm of Tuscany with several venue options for a bride’s perfect day. 

The Chapel Ruins is the ideal place for “I do’s” and the Stables is a showcase of rustic charm and spacious elegance. Their new Veranda is a stunning covered deck overlooking the Sassafras vineyards. The Peacock room is an intimate, lavish setting  reserved for brides to get ready and watch for guests arriving in perfect privacy. The upscale Lodge at the Winery is the latest showcase venue, opening this summer with four bedrooms, a spectacular great room and a spacious deck at the foot of the vineyards. 

Owner Cheryl Long and her event coordinators will customize your special day with their award-winning wines, extensive decor selection, linens, chargers, china and every wedding resource you need. Sassafras Springs can also provide personalized wine labels. 

“We can make their day as much of a winery experience as they want with wine tasting flights, food and wine pairings, and even a grape stomp, really anything they dream up we will do that, ” Long says. A recent bride said, “When we arrived at Sassafras I was blown away at how it looked exactly how I had envisioned in my mind. 

It was beautiful and elegant and absolutely perfect.” 

the REGISTRY

At The Everyday Chef in Jonesboro and Little Rock, couples meet with the staff and review a registry checklist to determine how many place settings and what grill ware, glassware and more they will need as they start their life together.

“Mix and match is very much a trend and has been for a good long while now,” says owner and manager Linda Wofford. “Most brides will register for a five-piece place setting – dinner, salad, bread and butter, soup/cereal, and mug or cup and saucer of something they like, and then they will mix and match, whether it be from different vendors or just with a different pattern or color.”

The staff sets a table, bringing out chargers and dinner, salad and bread and butter plates, laying out flatware on a placemat with a napkin and napkin ring and crystal, blending styles to create the look couples likes best.

Herend patterns remain popular and are often chosen with Sasha Nicholas and Anna Weatherley pieces, available in the same colorations. Brides also often choose Beatriz Ball pieces, metalware that can go from oven or freezer to table.

Annieglass, sustainably-made handcrafted glassware, is also on many registries.

“They have been around for a long time, and they make a lot of innovative pieces that brides love,” she says.

The Everyday Chef also sells Arkansas-made Miller’s Mud Mill serving platters, James Hay glassware and cutting boards by Eric Sibrava of New Found Skill of Higden.

“It’s exciting to see a couple put together what they like and know that they will cherish it for years to come,” Wofford says.

Sei bella med spa helps brides and grooms look their best for their big day.

the SELF-CARE

Sei Bella Med Spa in Little Rock helps brides look their best for their big day.

“We frequently do Botox/Dysport for brides,” says Anne Trussell, M.D. “I also get requests for lip filler. Facials, chemical peels and IPL are popular to remove sun damage and uneven skin tone.”

Trussell says mothers of both brides and grooms often visit Sei Bella as well, so they can look younger for the wedding.

“A popular noninvasive service we offer is SculpSure for permanent fat loss. That needs to be started several months in advance,” Trussell says. “The SculpSure Club we recently started offering at Sei Bella has made that very affordable.”