Southern Lady of the Year: Lori Allen

Lori and daughter Mollie Surratt (left) at the 2019 Southern Lady of the Year award presentation / Photography by Andy Baxter Photography

This touch-feel connection has to happen in a store,” Lori explains. The show has pushed the idea even further, making friends and family part of the occasion. “I think Say Yes to the Dress made shopping even a bigger thing than it used to be, and now they bring large entourages,” she says.

Four decades ago, weeks after graduating from college, Lori launched her shop in a 1,000-square-foot space with Wedgwood blue walls, four pull-curtain changing rooms, and her mother, Jean Burns, as an unpaid sales assistant.

“We had one mannequin and her hand kept falling off. I would change her 500 times a day because it was so boring,” says Lori, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but spent her formative years in Fairfield, Ohio.

“We were kind of the misfit Southern family,” she recalls. “My mother was the only one making biscuits and okra in Ohio.” Her family later returned to the South when her father, Carroll, an insurance executive, accepted a job in Atlanta.

As she strolls through her chic, cleanly styled three-level megastore, she pauses and smiles proudly as a bride in a sparkling, strapless couture gown basks in the excitement of her final fitting, the staff tending to her like royalty. From the store’s shipping area where thousands of frocks arrive each year to the famous runway where television brides strut, Lori stops to chat with clients, floor managers, and clerks—even posing for a photo for a construction worker whose roommate adores the show. “I wasn’t sure it was you, but then I heard the voice,” he says.