Behind the Hair and Makeup by Anna Whitener

Earlier this week I shared some sneak peeks of the headshots I had taken by my friend and local photographer Whitney Fisher. I don’t think I’ve gotten that many likes and comments since posting my wedding pictures almost three years ago! For someone who focuses on lifting up women daily, I have to admit, it felt really good to be on the receiving end of so many compliments. However, my immediate reaction to feeling proud, pretty (thank you Tori Stewart), and loved was guilt and shame over my vanity.

Y’all, that is ridiculous!

56575892_10109773032965440_4605665668279304192_o.jpg

If dressing up, being pampered with professional hair and makeup, and posing in front of a camera for an hour or so leads to a moment captured in time when you felt strong, beautiful, and loved that you can share with your children, spouses, moms, colleagues, and girl squads, DO IT!!!

More importantly, if you can help another woman feel these things by uttering a kind word or posting a fire emoji, DO IT!!!

In a world where we only see what is posted on picture perfect social media, it is easy to forget that we are all struggling with some aspect of our lives. We should seize the opportunities we have to lift one another up and celebrate the sense of pride and empowerment we get from being supported by those dear to us!

Ok, it’s about to get real…

55927890_10109773032845680_6491778402876391424_o.jpg

Though I don’t allow negative body talk in the store, I myself worry about not being pretty enough, cool enough, curvy enough, business-savvy enough (thank you ever-changing IG algorithms), a good enough wife, a good enough daughter, and as a self-admitted people pleaser, likeable enough.

The good enough daughter card is probably the hardest to play right now. I lost my dad almost 10 years ago, and I am now finding myself on calls with palliative care doctors regarding my mom’s health, with an overwhelming sense of guilt for not being there in person. As a 32 year old, most of my friends can’t yet relate (nor would I want them to be able to). I feel like a “debbie downer” for being distracted with these stresses even when I don’t utter them aloud.

Even with amazingly supportive friends and family, I can sometimes feel alone.

56165087_10109773033224920_1809499580417441792_o.jpg

So…receiving numerous “likes” and comments on a simple post of pretty pictures left me feeling seen, acknowledged, supported, and loved. Those small acts served as reminders of what I already know is true. Ladies, keep it up! The next time you see a noteworthy post from a friend, a colleague, a family member, or even an aquaintance, don’t you dare keep scrolling. No matter how idealistic each of our lives looks from the other side of a computer screen, we all need each other.

56435238_10109773032671030_1810208056747753472_o.jpg

(Over)dressed: Having More with Less by Anna Whitener

Life is not about what we have but who we
choose to share it with.

I often get asked why I decided to sell my own wedding dress. Similar to those who choose to keep theirs, I felt very sentimental about our wedding day and I wanted to hold on to something to pass down to a future generation of our family. For me, that something was the engagement ring my dad gave my mom that she entrusted to me upon his passing. It is a beautiful ring made of opals (his birthstone), because he could not afford a diamond at the time. To me, it represents the fact that life is not about what we have but who we choose to share it with. I waited until my wedding day to wear that ring. Not only did it serve as my “something old” but as a physical reminder of my dad’s spiritual presence with me on that special day. 

Photo :  Fox & Owl Studio //Not Just an Opal Ring 

Photo: Fox & Owl Studio//Not Just an Opal Ring 

Another (more practical) reason for selling my wedding dress is that my husband and I currently live in an apartment and have limited space for storing items “for a rainy day.” In fact, I have decided to minimize my wardrobe and take a stab at Project 333. For those who are not yet familiar with Project 333, in a nutshell it provides direction for embarking on the capsule wardrobe movement. It stipulates that one’s wardrobe should consist of 33 items of clothing (including shoes, outerwear, and jewelry – yikes, right?!) that you wear for 3 months before changing it up for a new season. While Project 333 doesn’t necessarily relate to Loveliest, it is something I thought all women searching this site might find interesting, especially since it is focused on finding pieces in our everyday wardrobe that make us feel as lovely as we feel in a wedding dress! For that reason, I’ll be sharing updates along this journey as well. For now, I’ll begin with the clean out process!

I was so excited to embark on this journey that I was pretty decisive, quickly moving each piece to the “keep,” “store for a future season,” or “get rid of” piles.

I knew I would need help whittling down my wardrobe, so I enlisted the help of my dear friend, Carrie McConkey who just so happens to have started her own business (Carrie M. Fashion Consulting) helping gals like me transform their wardrobe into something that gives them confidence rather than anxiety. In a former life, she actually MADE wedding dresses here in Knoxville. Small world, huh? Armed with a sample list of 33 items provided by Courtney Carver, creator of Project 333, plenty of water, and freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, Carrie and I dove right in!

Photo :  Carolina O'Neal //Project 333 Fuel: Fresh Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//Project 333 Fuel: Fresh Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies!

I started by doing the laundry and making sure there was nothing lurking in the dirty clothes bin. I then piled all 214 items (excluding jewelry) that were in my closet and drawers on (or around) my bed. Result: categorized stacks on stacks on stacks (see below)! I did not unearth the items I own that were already stored away for future seasons. I’ll save those for a future 3-month planning stint. 

Photo :  Carolina O'Neal //Facing the Truth: Too Much STUFF!

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//Facing the Truth: Too Much STUFF!

Carrie and I then did quick-fire rounds moving through each sub-set of items. I was so excited to embark on this journey that I was pretty decisive, quickly moving each piece to the “keep,” “store for a future season,” or “get rid of” piles. Carrie was FABULOUS about stopping me on certain items that I wanted to keep to inspect them and determine if they were in fact up to snuff. If there was a piece I didn’t want to part with (like this chunky sweater with dolman sleeves – I learned a new fashion term!) that was not in tip-top shape or was too small, Carrie would pin it up, take a photo, and move it to my “replace” pile. 

Photo :  Carolina O'Neal //Carry Explaining Dolman Sleeves

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//Carry Explaining Dolman Sleeves

She informed me I was allowed to wear those pieces until I could purchase similar replacements, but they were not meant to stay for long. When I could not choose between seemingly similar garments, Carrie would have me try on each item to determine their pros/cons. These images of two vests I owned provide a third-party, objective view that makes the decision a no-brainer! One is so slimming and can be dressed up or down while the other looks like its bulky warmth only belongs on the ski slopes (which I undoubtedly avoid).

Photo :  Carolina O'Neal //My Face Says it All!

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//My Face Says it All!

Photo:   Carolina O'Neal //Much Better Fit!

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//Much Better Fit!

Ultimately, we were able to come very close to the 33-piece goal for my first 3-month wardrobe, ending up with 41 items, not including those I need to replace. I will try to hold off on those to see if they do in fact need upgrading. Carrie must have had a premonition when she got dressed that day, because after I put everything away and moved ALL the empty hangers and two emptied storage containers out of my bedroom, all I felt like screaming was WHEE! Stay tuned for updates on how the project is going!

Photo :  Carolina O'Neal //The Shirt Says it All: Whee!

Photo: Carolina O'Neal//The Shirt Says it All: Whee!

You're Coming In with Me? by Anna Whitener

Oh crap. I should have worn prettier underwear. How are my underarms so hairy? I literally just shaved. There is no way my legs can be that ashy! Did I not put lotion on earlier?  Geez, I really should have tanned at least once this summer so I wouldn’t blind everyone in sight. Why does it have to be so hot? She is going to think I don’t even wear deodorant! I wish I hadn’t eaten that extra slice of pizza today. I feel so bloated.

Ladies…if these or any other similar thoughts come into your head while trying on wedding dresses at Loveliest, I want you to know:

1. I have been there, and

2. this is a judgment-free zone!

When I first realized that a bridal stylist would be joining me in the dressing room to physically help me in and out of wedding dresses, I was a bit shocked. I was thinking “I should have worn different undies.” Then, “Did I shave my bikini line?” And finally, “Oh my gosh, she is going to see just how flat-chested I am.”

Now, I am the one in the dressing room either supporting a bride as she steps through layers of fabric or guiding her hands through the armholes of a dress as I pull it over her head. I can promise you that I am not looking at your undies, your bra, your belly, your underarms, or anything else. I am fully concentrating on making sure I get you properly into said dress with each layer of fabric laying as it should and pinning it the best way possible so that you and your guests are able to see what it will look like post-alterations.

At Loveliest, I see that you have the curves I’ve always dreamed of, or the perfectly toned arms and back, or the beautifully bronzed skin, or the gorgeous smile that makes you glow, or the hair that looks good with or without a veil. Every bride I work with is beautiful. Each one exudes hope, excitement, and awe. This is one of the most magical times in your life. Let’s focus on that together. 

Does that mean you can’t voice your opinion? Absolutely not! I encourage you to tell me if we need to change the music, if you are too hot or too cold, or if you need a refill on snacks or a drink. Most importantly, please tell me what you do and don’t like about each dress.  It will help us find your perfect one! But, if I catch you spouting silly negative thoughts about yourself, we might have to have a quick “reset” chat, because I guarantee there is plenty of positive going on in that wedding dress! Love wins!

What's with the Seahorses? by Anna Whitener

As you peruse the dresses at Loveliest, you may glance up. When you do, you’ll notice a print with two seahorses sharing their love. Then, when you visit the restroom, the gold sequin seahorse canvas will surely grab your attention.

Why seahorses in a Tennessee bridal boutique nowhere near the beach? When Gavin and I were first dating (in 2010), those stretchy, multi-colored bracelets shaped like animals were all the rage with tweens. Remember these?

One day, our younger cousin presented us with a handful and nudged us each to take one. I picked a red heart as a not-so-subtle show of affection toward my new beau. Then, Gavin went for the yellow seahorse. I assumed it was because it was the only non-girly option. When he later told me that it was because seahorses mate for life, I realized he was the romantic one in the relationship. Now, every time I see artwork with seahorses, I am reminded how lucky I am to have him as my lifetime mate.

I decided to decorate the boutique with some seahorse items to remind myself and other Loveliest brides to choose one another every single day. Finding "your dress" can feel overwhelming, until you compare it to the relatively more substantial feat of finding "your person" - and that part you've already accomplished! Do you and your honey have a behind the scenes story, a secret shared with only one another that we could all benefit from learning? Spread the love and the wisdom by commenting on our Facebook page!

Overwhelmed by Anna Whitener

In some ways, wedding planning helped prepare me for opening Loveliest. However, with that venture I had close friends who had gone before me and vendors and Pinterest boards galore to guide me. Starting a business does not come with a neat little checklist. Yes, there are plenty of books in the self-help vein and there are valuable state and local resources designed to serve that purpose. But no individual resource can meet everyone at their respective starting points and direct each separately to step-by-step paths for creating unique small businesses.

Tomorrow is D-day, the first day I can truly access the brick-and-mortar storefront that will become Loveliest. I can physically clean, paint, assemble furniture, organize and begin to decorate. So here I am.

Overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed by the emptiness of the space I need to fill with beautiful dresses and the “right” furniture and décor to make my brides feel the love. 

My Canvas - Loveliest Bridal Boutique Before Decor

My Canvas - Loveliest Bridal Boutique Before Decor

Overwhelmed with the fear of letting down my brand-spanking new spouse with longer hours worked, more travel, exhaustion, and possible failure.

Overwhelmed by anxiety that I have dropped the ball on something important at my current place of employment.

Overwhelmed with sadness that I now have to miss out on time with friends due to the hours I’ve committed to Loveliest.

 

But mostly…

 

I am overwhelmed (to the point of tears) with the love and support that have been doled out to to me as I follow this dream.

Overwhelmed with joy that my boss has allowed me to stay on in a part time capacity, so I can pursue two distinct careers for which I have a passion.

Overwhelmed with appreciation that my family and friends in other states have already marked their calendars to support me at a pre-opening event here in Knoxville.

Overwhelmed by the confidence my colleagues have instilled in me daily with their cheers of encouragement.

Overwhelmed with delight that my husband hasn’t complained (too much) about me filling our home with wedding dresses, furniture, and décor as I await the start of the boutique’s lease.

Overwhelmed with relief that I am doing something right when an acquaintance compliments me on this very blog.

Overwhelmed with gratitude for the offers of support extended to me by Local Knoxville entrepreneurs, creative spirits, and civic-minded leaders knowing full well that I am not capable of yet returning the favor.

You know how I was saying something about not having a guidebook for each individual entrepreneur and business? I've realized that often I have been provided just the guidance I needed, though it has come in many forms. I had to let go of the belief that acceptance of help somehow diminishes my ownership. I wanted to believe I could do it all by myself - that I had to, but that is not the case at all. Loveliest may be my “baby,” but it is the love that has been poured into it from family, friends, colleagues, and this community before the doors are even open that will make it the LOVEliest bridal boutique it can be. For that, please accept my “overwhelming” thank you!

No Comparison by Anna Whitener

We are taught not to compare ourselves to others – not our looks, our incomes, our marriages, our clothes, our childhoods, our jobs, our houses, our parenting. For when we compare, we do so knowing intimately every chapter of our own book of life while viewing only the inside jacket of someone else’s. Obviously the knowledge that we “shouldn’t” do it doesn’t stop us. While we are taught not to compare, we are simultaneously encouraged to learn from others and to strive for greatness. Thus, it is easy to get tangled in the web of comparison when looking to others for direction in our careers, relationships, and lives.

For weddings, events that should be so uniquely personal, the challenge to compare seems to be as great as (if not greater than) any other aspect of our lives. We are now bombarded with images, blogs, and advertisements that lead us to pin until our hearts’ content. Even in writing this blog, I think to myself I’m not giving the people what they want. I am not providing numbered lists like “5 Hottest Dress Designers of the Year” or “7 Ways to Determine the Best Dress for your Shape” or “10 Reasons to Forego the [fill in the blank] at your Wedding” I’m not following the rule of thumb of loading up my page with glamorous, catchy images. I’m not even talking about wedding dresses all that much. But what I am doing…is being me. I want the people who shop with me to know who they will be spending this precious time with before they even step through the door. I am real. I have flaws (obviously). I am silly. I am sappy. I am steadfast. I want to know you. I want to get excited with you! I want to watch you have your “ah-ha” moment. I want to share a little of me with you, so that you are willing to do the same in return.

Most of all, I want you to know that I will not compare your wedding to that of anyone else’s. I find myself now in the position of hearing others discuss their wedding planning processes. I am tempted to dole out advice, because I want to help every bride have a perfect wedding day like I had. Then I remember they don't need my advice on how to display the flatware to have an amazing wedding. Of course our wedding day wasn’t flawless. I didn’t quite DIY enough decorations (thanks goodness our day of coordinator saved the day), we had some mislabeled donut flavors, and I learned after the fact that our biggest failure was running out of beer – very early! But we were surrounded by our friends and family. We danced. We laughed. We kissed. At the end of the evening, we were married. Isn’t that what really matters? When I was engaged, the last thing I wanted to hear was how a friend of friend’s cousin’s daughter-in-law, Betty Sue so-and-so, chose her menu for the big day. Those little things aren’t what make a wedding day special. Love is. I trust that yours is unique with your partner and I hope that all those who surround you recognize that as well. 


Cut Them Some Slack by Anna Whitener

My aunt forwarded me two photos that an old friend just found and sent to her. They are of my dad when he was 18 and apparently on a trip to Europe with friends – quite the discovery since he would have been 65 now. I thought I had seen all of my parents’ photos and heard all their stories, but these were new. It is so easy to think of parents’ lives beginning at marriage or parenthood, but they were also once children and young adults navigating their own lives, not just preparing us for ours.

IMG_3049.JPG

When I was shopping for my own wedding dress with my mom, the tears were flowing. I looked at her and told her to get it together. I reminded her that this should be a blissful occasion. I assumed (incorrectly) that she was thinking about my dad and either 1) reminiscing on their marriage that was cut short with his untimely death, or 2) wishing he was here to see his baby girl in a wedding dress. It turns out that by assuming the “worst” – that she was crying sad tears instead of joyful ones – I only brought the unhappy memories to her attention. The seamstress helping us directed my mom to the tissue box and said to me “Your mom is thinking about you as a little girl – maybe 5 or 6 years old – twirling around in a dress and pretending to get married. She can’t believe that this day is here, because that memory feels like it was yesterday to her.” My mom nodded vehemently in agreement, unable to put into her own words exactly what she was thinking.

The seamstress provided her opinion of my mom’s thoughts based on her work over the years with many other moms, aunts, and grandmothers, I’m sure. I projected my own wish for my dad to be there onto my mom. She has been a remarkable mother, so I forget that she has a lifetime of memories, some from before I was alive and before she met my dad. She is a grown woman with her own thoughts, dreams, expectations, plans, and memories. Rather than asking my mom what she was feeling and allowing her response (whatever it may have been) to be okay, I got caught up in wanting it to be my special day and took her moment away from her. We can be so hard on loved ones, and I find that especially true with my oh-so-sweet mama, even when there is absolutely no reason for it.  

So, please do this for me, whether at Loveliest or elsewhere. When you are trying on wedding dresses, twirling about and only thinking of what should be and what’s to come, know that some of the people with you may also be thinking of what once was and may simply be in awe that this day is here. Try to appreciate that whatever their reactions may be, they are with you to rejoice in this milestone of your life. Allow those with you to have their own memorable experience, even when it does not look like what you thought it should. Promise me that, and I promise to have the tissues ready!

Role Play by Anna Whitener

I’m not going to tell my age (though you could probably Google it these days – gosh, I even sound old), but I have technically been an adult for quite some time. However, I am only now starting to feel “grown up.” I’m not sure if this feeling is propelled by seeing the wedding ring on my finger, recognizing the risk of starting my own business, or getting excited about staying in on a Friday night and going to bed before 10 pm. Now don’t get me wrong – I live for dessert, will happily dance in the rain, am dying to see Finding Dory, and frequently catch myself speaking schoolgirl gibberish when I see Gavin (my hubby of 2 weeks now). In fact, we have conjured up a whole story about the dove that lives on our balcony (named Milton) that we continue to play out as if we were reciting a screenplay for the next Pixar movie. I will always be a kid at heart – just a very motivated, introspective kid.

Ultimately, I notice my age (read: maturity) when seeking out in others what I lack.  I am a big proponent of finding your happiness and following your heart. However, I find that sometimes my heart gets a little ahead of itself and needs some direction from those in my corner. Everyone has a role to play, and recognizing your spouse’s early on is clutch.

I have a (slightly biased) mom who believes I can do anything, and therefore instills in me the same belief. I have girlfriends who I can vent to and share intimate girly details with (like my best friend who had me in tears from laughing so hard about bikini waxes last night). I have colleagues who offer much needed wisdom about everyday life. Then, I have Gavin. He tempers my obsessive planning and organization with a more laissez-faire attitude. He is also an engineer – so where I think with emotion, he swoops in with logic and reason to keep me grounded. Sometimes those traits drive me crazy, because they are so at odds with my own personality, but I have learned that there is truth to “opposites attract” and that our collective thinking is what will get us through this crazy world.

When planning to open Loveliest, I negotiated a potential lease for months before finally getting to see the space in person. Gavin went along with me, and afterwards, we decided we needed to give the deal more thought before signing a lease for which we would both ultimately be responsible. After work that night, Gavin brought up several facts that pointed towards walking away. I was listening, but only partially. I kept responding to him with “I know, but…”. I wanted to keep listening to my own heart. I didn’t want to hear to his sound reasoning, because my emotions were so tied up in the idea of what I had spent months working towards.

I am pleased to say that I will have access to the Loveliest boutique space starting August 1st (pictures to follow!), and it is SO SO SO much better than the space from which Gavin steered me away – because thank goodness, I LISTENED. My mom would have said full steam ahead. My friends could never have known all the factors at play. My colleagues gave great advice, but didn’t have the same liability and therefore influence. They say marriages are about compromise, but I think it requires less concession and more collaboration. Recognize in your partner what he or she brings to the table that you and others in your corner don’t and embrace those qualities! After all, they’re likely the reason you make a great couple!  

IMG_3017.JPG