Let the celebration begin by finding the perfect wedding dress at one of West Virginia’s finest shops.
Written by Shay Maunz
Photographed by Nikki Bowman, Elizabeth Roth, and Rebecca Devono[line]
The Boutique by B.Belle Events
At The Boutique by B.Belle Events, brides shop in a sun-drenched room lined with gowns and three walls of solid windows—two face the street, and the third faces the elegant stone interior of the historic Woodrums’ Building in downtown Charleston. Tables are stacked with a collection of antique books and draped shadow boxes display sparkly new jewelry. A bar cart offers sparkling water, and champagne chills in the back. “I describe the space as being very elegant and lovely,” says owner Belle Manjong. “It’s almost like going to your favorite aunt’s house where everything is very pristine and valuable, and your mom’s saying, ‘No, don’t touch anything.’ And your aunt is like, ‘Oh, she’s fine.’” Belle sells upscale wedding dresses—prices start around $1,750—but she goes out of her way to welcome all brides who come into the shop. She doesn’t want to put on airs or give off an exclusive vibe. “It’s lovely, but it’s not stuffy,” she says.
The boutique opened in May of 2014 as an extension of Belle’s event planning business, B.Belle Events. She’d been helping brides plan their weddings for seven years and realized there was an opening for an upscale shop in the Charleston bridal market. “We opened to fill a need,” she says. “People kept asking me when I was going to open a shop, so I finally folded and did it.” Now she sells dresses from designers like Lazaro and Pronovias, bride favorites that made up a lot of the requests she used to get from customers who were going elsewhere to shop. All the dresses in the store are made with natural fabrics in places like Barcelona or New York City.
Belle makes it a point to accommodate plus-sized brides—another lesson from her wedding planning experiences. “I saw the angst of full-figured brides who are scared to death they will walk into a shop to look for a dress and not be able to find anything that fits,” she says. She hand-picks every dress in the store and keeps in mind women of all shapes and sizes when doing so. “I try to imagine being a plus-sized woman, and then I try to imagine being 6 feet tall and rail thin,” she says. “I shop for both of those and all things in between.” The dresses at B.Belle are custom-made from measurements taken in the shop, which also helps secure a great fit, no matter the size of the bride.
A trip to B.Belle often starts with an appointment—walk-ins are welcome, but Belle encourages you to call ahead. Then there’s a consultation with Belle on your personal style and the plans for your wedding day, and she’ll invite you to explore the dresses on display—but she’ll probably pull a few things for you to try, too. “We’ll try on what you think you want,” she says. “I just ask that you keep an open mind.” Often, she says, brides walk out the door with the perfect dress they didn’t know they wanted. Belle’s background in wedding planning helps as she makes suggestions because she understands the intricacies of wedding planning. “I don’t want to just sell you a dress,” she says. “I want your wedding dress to tell a story. I want your guests to look at you and see how it fits into the story of your relationship and of your big day.”602 Virginia Street East, Suite 101, Charleston, 304.382.6200, bbelleevents.com
Oliverio’s Bridal and Prom Boutique
Oliverio’s is a surprising boutique tucked into a shopping center with a massive selection of dresses—owner Angela Patsy estimates they have somewhere between 500 and 600 wedding gowns in stock at any given time. “And they’re all different,” she says. “We keep just one dress in each style in the store, so every single dress is different and you can look at the whole range before we order it in your size.” There’s even more on top of hundreds of wedding gowns—the shop also carries a huge selection of bridesmaids’ dresses and can handle the rest of the bridal party, too. “We can do a wedding start to finish with the wardrobe,” Angela says. “From the wedding gown to the bridesmaids to the mothers and flower girls. We have everything here, even as far as the shoes and jewelry go.”
Angela and her staff are flexible—they try to bend to the whims of each bride. “Every bride is different,” she says. “Some people want your help constantly and other people want to be left alone for a little bit. We can help them shop or let them browse alone. We can stay there with them to help them dress or we can let their bridesmaid help them dress—it’s whatever they prefer.” They’re happy to help a bride find a gown that looks like a photo she brings in, listen to her describe her dream dress, or make suggestions of their own. They especially love doing that last one.
Angela opened Oliverio’s in 1989 after helping her sister plan her wedding just after the last bridal store in Clarksburg closed. Her parents own a floral shop, and she’d been working there for years. “My mom did weddings all the time, and I would help her go set up the flowers and watch the brides getting ready,” she says. “I was just drawn to the wedding business.” She started with a few gowns in the corner of her mom’s shop, but soon outgrew that space and moved into the storefront she has now—Oliverio’s has been a mainstay in North Central West Virginia’s formal wear market ever since. A few years ago she outgrew even that larger space and expanded again, into an adjacent storefront. Now, thanks to that expansion, the bridal department has its own section of the store, away from the portion that houses prom and pageant dresses. “That makes it really nice for the brides,” Angela says. “They can come in with their friends and family and have room to shop without bumping into younger girls. It makes it more special.118 Emily Drive, Clarksburg, 304.623.6006, oliveriosbridal.com
Coni & Franc
Connie Merandi knows what she’s doing. Her store, Coni & Franc in Morgantown, has been selling formal wear since 1982 and bridal wear since 1987, and in that time Connie has counseled countless brides with the composed kindness that is her trademark. The boutique has everything from wedding gowns to bridesmaids’ dresses and tuxedo rentals. Connie is especially passionate about dressing the mother of the bride. “She deserves to feel beautiful on that day,” she says. The shop has sportswear and cocktail dresses, too, so brides can choose every outfit they need for that flurry of activity leading up to and following a wedding, from the wedding shower to the rehearsal dinner and reception. “So when they come we can make it a trouble-free experience,” Connie says. “It isn’t just that we sell a dress, we do everything.”
Connie and her sales team spend a lot of time with brides, and Connie in particular brings years of experience to the task of choosing a dress. She knows to ask questions that brides would never have thought of on their own: Does she get warm easily? Then she shouldn’t wear sleeves in the warmer months. What kind of surface will she be standing on during the ceremony? That’s critical when choosing shoes. She has a great eye for knowing what dresses will look good on a woman’s body type, a huge asset when a woman is sifting through the sea of gowns. “We figure out what their best attributes are, what the most beautiful part of them is—the part we want to showcase,” she says. “And then we go from there.”422 High Street, Morgantown 304.296.9466, coniandfranc.net
Vienna wedding boutique Elizabeth Michaels is a 12-year veteran of West Virginia’s wedding shop scene, but it’s been swirling with renewed energy in the last year, ever since Kristina Snider and her mother, Donna McKinnis, bought it from its previous owner in 2013. Kristina had worked at the shop for years, ever since she was 15, and didn’t feel the need to make big changes—Elizabeth Michaels has a great reputation—but she did want to make it her own. “Basically it’s just carrying on what we were doing—we carry the same brands and everything,” she says. “But we have made some small changes.” They tweaked the logo and have started offering some special wedding services, like a day-of wedding planner.
Kristina comes to the shop from a background in public relations and beauty pageants—she just stopped competing in them a little over a year ago. Both of those things contribute to her careful approach to customer service, which is what she says makes Elizabeth Michaels a special place to shop for a wedding dress. “I do think I look at customers differently because of my background, because I actually learned how to relate to the public and people,” she says. “I don’t come from a fashion background but my fashion sense does come from all those pageants—I’ve picked out thousands of dresses for myself, and I’ve made huge mistakes and had big hits.”
Kristina places special emphasis on stocking dresses at a variety of price points—the store carries dresses anywhere from $100 to $2,500. And she doesn’t force brides into dresses they aren’t in love with just because they’re newer or more on trend. “You can’t think about the make or the price. It’s what looks good on you and what you like,” she says. “My philosophy is that I have something for everybody.”1505 Grand Central Avenue, Vienna 304.865.2670, elizabethmichaels.net
House of Fashions
Bridgeport’s House of Fashions is literally that—a big two-story house, reinvented to become home to an array of formal wear in all shapes and sizes and to feel like home to anyone who shops there. “We wanted to have a place where girls of any age could come and feel comfortable,” says Keri Hays, who owns the store with her mother, Melissa. “That’s part of the reason we went with the house, so it would feel homey—it’s the most horrible feeling in the world walking into a place where you need help, you need expertise, and you feel completely out of your element.” House of Fashions was born from a desire to create a better kind of boutique, a place that was good at all the things Melissa and Keri wanted to see when they were shopping, and steered clear of all the things they hate.
Melissa has been sewing for more than four decades—and we’re not just talking about casual hemming and mending. She sewed her own prom dress in high school, made her husband’s business suits for years, and has supplied a huge chunk of Keri’s clothing her entire life. When Keri started entering pageants in high school, it was only natural that her mom would make most of the clothes she needed—mainly gowns and interview suits. “You get a little bit spoiled, always having everything fit really nicely, being able to envision what you want and get it exactly,” Keri says. But they were less satisfied with their experience buying formal wear at boutiques and always thought they could run a shop better. In 2010, after talking about it for years, they finally decided to test their theory and opened House of Fashions. Keri handles customers and Melissa is the primary seamstress.
That means House of Fashions places a unique emphasis on alterations and the fit of each dress—Melissa and Keri think it’s just as important as the fabric a dress is made of or the way it’s styled. “People pay a lot of money for gowns, and they expect to get a quality product even after it’s altered,” Keri says. “Not to toot my mom’s horn, but she’s amazing at it.” They also keep 10 to 15 sizes of each style of dress in stock, so there’s no guesswork involved when you’re looking in the mirror, trying to imagine what you’ll look like on your wedding day.
Keri is committed to accommodating brides of all shapes and sizes—they carry wedding gowns from size 4 through 30, and as many as they can on the far ends of that spectrum, where there are so often fewer options. “There’s nothing more disheartening than a girl coming in and she can’t get anything to fit her,” she says. “I don’t ever want to put someone through that.”
Keri admits she and her mom are picky, which means they put a lot of energy into getting little details right. They keep every wedding dress in a bag, for example, so it doesn’t get dirty or damaged on the rack—they want it to feel pretty and special when the bride puts it on for the first time. And they only schedule one bridal appointment at a time, so every bride has the house’s entire top floor to herself. “We want you to feel like it’s special,” Keri says. “It’s not just any other shopping trip.”
At The Vow in Morgantown, shopping for your wedding gown is treated as an event in and of itself, not just a precursor to the wedding. The shop is dedicated entirely to brides, and owner Kristen Frodelius is intent on making their experience shopping for a wedding dress almost as memorable as their wedding day. Brides are celebrated and congratulated. They’re offered champagne. When they step into a fitting room, the staff adds their fiancés’ last names to a chalkboard that reads, “Future Mrs.” When a bride chooses her dress, they snap a photo and put it on display, like something a proud friend would do. “We just try to make it really special,” Kristen says. “We want it to be a really personal, intimate experience.”
Kristen opened The Vow in November of 2013 after living in New York for a few years working in the fashion industry—she has degrees in fashion, fashion merchandising, and business. She was one of those little girls who dreamed of her wedding. “I used to have a composition notebook, and I would just draw wedding dresses in it,” she says. As an adult, she’s been a bridesmaid in nine weddings, and with every one she learned a little bit more about what she likes in a wedding boutique and what she doesn’t like. “The more weddings I was in, the more I wanted to do this,” she says.
Now Kristen treats every customer like they’re a dear friend, and her brides often come to see her as a trusted confidante. “We’ve had brides come in and ask our opinion on linens,” she says. “Or they come to us with bridesmaid drama—anything like that, we become the go-to.” Kristen has formed real friendships with some clients, and even been invited to their weddings at the end of it all. “That’s my favorite part,” Kristen says. “Becoming friends with these girls is really special.”4 Suburban Court Morgantown, 304.291.7333, firstname.lastname@example.org, thevowwv.com
Bridal Central, 310 Locust Street, Suite 1, Princeton, WV 24740, 304.425.1188, bridalcentral.com
Cecelia’s Bridal & Formal Wear, 108 East Washington Street, Lewisburg, WV 24901, 304.645.3633, cecilias.vpweb.com
Classic Bridal, 3412 University Avenue, Morgantown, WV 26505, 304.599.8120, classicbridal.com
Dinah’s Boutique, 385 Bridal Ridge Road, French Creek, WV 26218, 304.924.6462, dinahsboutique.com
Full Circle Wedding Consignment Shop, 7 Elm Terrace Shopping Plaza, Wheeling, WV 26003, 304.905.4515, fullcircleweddingshop.com
Ginger’s Designer Apparel, 601 Fairmont Avenue, Fairmont, WV 26554, 304.363.5195
Harvey’s Fashions and Bridal, 104 Beckley Plaza, Beckley, WV 25801, 304.253.2055, harveysfashionsandbridals.com
J&J’s Personal Touch, 2805 Murdoch Avenue, Parkersburg, WV 26101, 304.422.7707, jandjspersonaltouch.com
Jean Ann’s Bridal and Prom Fashions, 310 Beckley Crossing, Beckley, WV 25801, 304.255.0002, jeanannsbridal.com
Nandel’s, 98 Roosevelt Boulevard, Eleanor, WV 25070, 304.586.4132, nandelsbridalprom.com
Ranch Dressings, 204 Washington Street, Ravenswood, WV 26164, 304.273.9534, ranchdressingswv.com
Rose Tree Boutique, Sixth and C Street, Ceredo, WV 25507, 304.453.3685, rosetreeboutique.com
Serendypity, Grand Central Mall, Vienna, WV 26105, 304.422.7434, serendypity.com
The Barn, 1406 Sam Mason Road, Bunker Hill, WV 25413, 304.229.3388, thebarn-bridal.com
The Dressmaker’s Closet, 1020 Bridge Road, Charleston, WV 25314, 304.720.1949, dressmakerscloset.com
Victoria’s Prom and Bridal Boutique, 415 Main Street, Point Pleasant, WV 25550, 304.675.2786
Wanda’s Bridal Shoppe, 102 Main Street West, Oak Hill, WV 25901, 304.469.9531, wandasbridal.com