• What: Bridal Affair: Enchanted Evening.
• When: 4-9 p.m. Thursday.
• Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza.
• Admission: $8 online, $10 at door.
• Website: timesfreepress.com/bridalaffair.
Courtney Weassel and Chad Haynes have just started planning their fall 2013 wedding.
"The only thing we've decided on is the venue," said the bride-to-be.
So Weassel has planned a girls night out Thursday with her mom, her future mother-in-law and her maid of honor at Bridal Affair: Enchanted Evening. She can shop more than 50 bridal vendors in one convenient location while enjoying the company and opinions of her gal pals.
Enchanted Evening, presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the Chattanooga Convention Center, is the first after-dark bridal fair to be held in town. The evening hour lends itself to a new, cocktail-party style.
It's contemporary and classy; a soiree like you'd find in Atlanta perhaps.
It's called the "bridal boutique."
"These unique events are growing in popularity across the country," said Jason Taylor, president and general manager of the Times Free Press.
"They allow brides to enjoy a more celebratory time making wedding decisions and mingling and sampling vendor products," he said.
Taylor said many brides-to-be and vendors attending A Formal Affair, a bridal expo also sponsored by the newspaper, asked that a second bridal show be added each year.
"We thought it was a great opportunity to experiment with this new boutique-style evening show," he said.
Vendors will be offering giveaways or the chance to sign up for discounts on their services. One lucky bride will win a three-night, four-day honeymoon in Cancun, courtesy of Choo Choo Travel.
Models wearing the latest in bridal attire from Boutique Couture, All Dressed Up and Eaves Formal Wear will pose atop platforms. This will allow brides to touch the gowns and see the designs more closely than they could from a runway catwalk.
After all that shopping, guests can unwind with a drink and visit the spa station. There, they can enjoy massages compliments of HealthSource and mini-manicures and pedicures courtesy of Virginia College.
Each guest will receive a glass of champagne as she arrives, but there also will be three special cocktails served: the Blushing Bride Cosmopolitan, Eternitini (appletini) and Wedding Belle (a Lemon Drop cocktail). Attendees must bring IDs; anyone under 21 may attend but will not be served.
"This boutique bridal show is intentionally designed to be a smaller, more intimate bridal experience so that brides receive more individual attention," said Lyndsi Sebastian, Times Free Press marketing manager.
Boutique bridal shows aren't the only new trend in the industry this fall. Following are three more.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The trend to move the ceremony out of the church to a local or out-of-state destination is more popular than ever, say industry experts. Wedding sites range from barns to riverbanks to beaches.
Reasons contributing to this trend include: the couple represent different religions, their church won't allow dancing at the reception, the church is too small to hold the guests expected, a particular outdoor location holds special significance to them.
With this trend comes a corresponding increase in the number and variety of venues opening their doors to engaged couples.
Visitors to Enchanted Evening will notice this variety: Chattanooga Choo Choo, DeBarge Vineyards & Winery, General Woods Inn, Grandview, Mountain Oaks Wedding Chapel, Stratton Hall and The Venue on Broad, Tennessee RiverPlace, The Colonnade, The Mill, The Plantation at Pigeon Mountain, the Walden Club, Waterhouse Pavilion, Second Presbyterian Church and The Church on Main.
A stop by Stratton Hall's booth offers the chance to see photos of the newest event hall in town as well as the chance to receive 10 percent off a booking in September.
Stratton Hall is in the former Broadway Feed and Seed on Broad Street, according to Haleigh Sherbak, venue director. She is the daughter of Dr. Jan Sherbak, who purchased the property and renovated it into an elegant, multipurpose hall with 10,000 interior square feet, a covered patio of 1,000 square feet and an outdoor patio with 5,000 square feet.
"Our space is big enough to actually set up the wedding on one end and separate it with draping from the reception, so people can walk right into the reception from the ceremony," Sherbak said.
"Most of the clients booking here want to bring in whatever they like -- band, DJ, any sort of decorating for lighting or sound. We've had some brides bring in stages. They've also brought in their own gazebos."
Stratton Hall also offers a prep kitchen, Sherbak said, because many cultures want their own cooking. Ethnic couples want to serve their cultures' foods, she said.
Whether influenced by Kate Middleton's lace-embellished gown or not, brides have made lace the best-seller locally, said Emily Goodin of Boutique Couture on Market Street.
"Right now, fitted lace gowns with any sort of keyhole back are huge," she said. In fact, any type of back interest is important to brides since that's the view their guests see the most during the ceremony, she said.
The fit-and-flare (fitted bodice that flares into a skirt below the hips) remains popular with brides. Although national trends predict the peplum or skirts with tiers of ruffles to be best-sellers, Goodin said Chattanooga brides still shy away from these styles.
"Peplums emphasize the hip area. Girls embrace the tiers of layers; they like the look, but on the body they pick something else."
THE RETURN OF THE CASCADE
For several years, local brides have walked down the aisle carrying loose blooms with wrapped stems.
Now the look is one their mother probably carried in the 1970s: the cascade.
"Brides want cascades in shades of white," said Gil Cartwright of Flowers by Gil & Curt on Tremont Street. "Brides want more elongated bouquets, rather than the garden look."
Cartwright suggests brides-to-be to carry white-on-white bouquets, "and let the bridesmaids be the color in the wedding."
For outdoor ceremonies, Cartwright said brides are choosing a natural look to complement their settings, such as herbs, loose blooms and succulents.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...