Southern Lady of the Year: Lori Allen

Photography by Andy Baxter Photography

Some women are hard on their daughters. “Mothers will say, ‘You’re not walking down the aisle in that,’ or ‘I’m not going if you wear that.’ You’ll see big tears roll down and you’re thinking, ‘Why would you say that?’” says Lori.

The network picks about 100 brides from thousands of applications received each month (available on the TLC and Bridals by Lori websites). Only about 25 make it on the show each season, which takes six months to shoot.

Lori and Monte are not given any information about the customers. “It’s like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. We have to work fast. What’s going on? What’s the problem?” says Lori, who offers about 15 couture bridal lines with more than 1,000 gowns, starting at $2,800.

Designer veils, jewelry, tiaras, and other top-of-the-line merchandise are available as well as bargains sold off the rack on the first level of the store. In addition to brides and bridesmaids, the boutique also handles tuxedos, social occasion dresses, and mother of the bride ensembles. Lori’s husband, Eddie, who she married while still in college, recently sold his bridal shop software company to play a more intergral role in daily operations of the store.

Which is Lori’s favorite wedding? “I think both my children’s. They were over-the-top. I have not been to anything to compare to them.” Daughter Mollie Surratt’s special day involved six (yes, six) designer gowns, while son Cory’s bride, Becca, had three.

Mollie was married in 2008, before Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. “She worked with the designers and Monte on my dresses,” says Mollie, 37. “I changed several times to honor some of our favorite designers, and it was magical.”

It was Mollie who urged Lori to go public with her breast cancer, diagnosed in 2012—a year she almost skipped her mammogram. Lori got the call from her doctor as she drove her husband to the hospital to have cancer surgery. After Eddie’s operation, she and Mollie went out to lunch and pondered the news.