Retracing Two Decades of Trends & Growth in the Central Virginia Bridal Scene
The first few hours following your engagement were probably filled with excitement, phone calls, celebrations and the start of planning! Today, wedding planning is done almost exclusively online with Pinterest boards, Instagram hashtags, websites, Facebook pages and reviews. But try to remove all of this. No social media, no internet—and gasp!—not even unlimited texting or FaceTime. Where would you even start?
While it’s hard to imagine, 20 years ago that was the reality for brides. Wedding planning was based largely on word of mouth and actual phone books. So Wende Gaylor, daughter of a local photographer, decided to fill in the gap and create a bridal guide.
“There was nothing here,” she says of the late 1990s. “The need was desperate. I talked to a few wedding vendors to see if they were interested and, of course, they were. Then I started on the road, marketing it, securing advertisers and dove in.”
Gaylor focused on gathering local, practical information into one accessible book that brides could keep with them throughout the entire planning process. The first bridal guide (1998-1999) was black and white, and roughly 5 x 8 inch in size, but despite humble origins, it was the first and only resource to gather the majority of local wedding vendors into one convenient package. Gaylor also knew that with seven colleges in the Lynchburg region, the wedding industry was prime for expansion. “I just knew there would be a lot of weddings in our area!”
For the next five years, Gaylor continued to build the bridal guide into an established and respected resource. She also added an annual showcase where wedding vendors could meet with brides, and after some time, they started an annual Bride of the Year Luncheon, which continued until 2017.
Each element further established the footprint of the bridal guide and gave local vendors a solid foundation for advertising and connecting with local brides.
Gaylor also had plenty of fun building the Guide and establishing it as the go-to resource. “We did a huge bridal show one year and decided to have a cake battle; three girls were picked from the crowd at random; they put on rain coats and gloves, and they had to dig through the cake to find the prize! There were three prizes in the cake: a diamond ring, a trip, and a cake for the wedding.”
In the early 2000s, Gaylor says weddings were “so simple [and] brides were spending less; they weren’t trying to have the perfect wedding.” Today, she sees a trend towards “perfection; it’s a lot harder now, and there’s more pressure on today’s brides.”
In a way, Gaylor says fewer choices made it easier. For example, with no world wide web, brides only had local options for wedding registries, so most would simply register at Belk. At that time, the biggest challenge was finding out what vendors, locations and options existed in the Central Virginia region, and Gaylor’s work with the Guide connected those dots.
About five years into the Guide, Gaylor started looking to pass the reins and found the Millers, a local business-minded family who also had four daughters. Details worked out not only for them to purchase the bridal guide, but for their oldest daughter, today Andrea Webb, to work as the editor along with Carrie Wright.
“Owning and running the guide was like birthing a child every year,” Webb says laughing. From co-editing the content to working with advertisers and finally to the event planning, she says, “You wear so many hats!”
Webb says that under Gaylor the Guide brought all local wedding resources together into one package—“it was being used as a great tool”—while during her tenure “it became more about the ideas and inspiration; if you want ‘this look,’ then this is who you call.”
She describes the Guide in the early-2000s as moving from “more valuable than the yellow pages to [competing] with Google searches,” so they added a web page to give “added exposure for advertisers; [the Guide] was the only source before the internet,” Webb says. “So we now had to go along with it.”
Webb believes that Lynchburg is one-of-a-kind for weddings, describing it as “that small town that can compete with the big towns [because] we have so many aspects for a gorgeous, classic wedding…[it’s] an amazing hub for brides with the venues, the history, the scenery—it’s a rich place.”
Citing the growing number of bakers, caterers, photographers and venues that she saw during her time with the Guide, Webb adds that they worked hard to bring the Guide up to speed with wedding trends at the time. “This time is when people were branching out into different types of flowers (not just baby’s breath and carnations) and different cake toppers,” she says. “Monograms were huge. . . and destination weddings were starting to trend, like a lake wedding and beach weddings in general.” And while options multiplied, the average wedding budget was growing to upwards of $20,000 to $25,000.
With increased details and costs to weddings, Webb says they educated readers on how they would benefit from hiring professional vendors such as wedding coordinators and photographers. “Part of the Guide was proving to the readers that there’s a lot of value in” the work the professionals would provide Webb says. In terms of style, Webb oversaw the first black and white cover photo, and said that along with other little details like “aligning with advertisers who were out of the box, like Sam Stroud and Adam Barnes, we kept [the Guide] fresh and cutting edge.”
As Webb married and had children, it was time once again for the Guide to change hands; this time it was purchased by Prototype, where Johanna Calfee eventually came on as editor in 2010.
Webb says Prototype and Calfee’s work gave the Guide “a makeover and evolved it into something professional—they took it to a whole new level!”
Calfee’s experience as a wedding photographer gave her a solid sense of “what brides wanted and where trends were headed” at the time. Looking back, she sees that period of time as one of explosive growth in the local wedding industry. “Tons of vendors, photographers, DJs, etc. came on the scene—they saw an opportunity here and stepped in,” she says.
Like Gaylor and Webb, Calfee agrees that the numerous colleges located here added to the growth, plus Lynchburg’s proximity to wine country and a growing nationwide interest in Southern charm, style and weddings; “that [trend] came on the scene and coincided with the rise,” Calfee says, adding that the “country chic Southern wedding” was a major trend complete with mason jars and cowboy boots peeking out from underneath a bride’s hemlines.
While Webb witnessed the introduction of Google and web pages, Calfee’s tenure saw the exponential growth of social media, which led to the introduction of the now nearly required personalized wedding hashtag. Social media—and Pinterest—also went a long way in “changing the game in terms of a bride’s expectations and showing her what was possible.” Calfee says all of this pushed vendors to perform at a higher level than ever before.
The Guide itself kept pace by moving from a focus on information, checklists and timelines to “now presenting the wedding as an experience; it’s not just about making sure you have all of the items,” says Calfee.
Today, the Guide is managed by VistaGraphics, who purchased it in 2014, and continues to inspire brides in the Central Virginia region.
By Jennifer Redmond0