Classic style, classic Monte

Known as the sassy sartorialist on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, Monte Durham certainly knows a thing or two about bridal fashion. But bridal style is just the tip of the tiara of Durham’s familiarity with fashion. Just as he knows the stockroom at Bridals by Lori like the back of his hand, Durham is equally as well versed in everything from runway-ready looks for prom to professional styles for work to leisurely looks for the weekend.

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Monte Durham poses below a portrait of Grace Kelly at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Photo by Amanda Reed / Contributed by Monte Durham.

As fashion director on Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta, Durham witnesses firsthand the changing trends and styles in the bridal market — changes that he said are making once-forgotten styles relevant yet again.

“What is old is new again — we hear that over and over again in fashion, but it really seems to be playing out on the runways for bridal, whether that be in Europe or whether that be elsewhere,” Durham said. “We are seeing a lot of coverage — jewel necklines, sleeves, cap sleeves, long sleeves, bateau necklines.”

Another past trend currently revived: “Buttons and bows, of course, are back en vogue,” said Durham.

Rifling through his seemingly photographic bridal memory for a snapshot of an iconic dress that employed the now-resuscitated trend, Durham offered, “I remember when Sarah [Ferguson] married [Andrew] in London. She had that huge bow on her backside — of course that was the ‘80s, but people were like, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful!’ And then suddenly, everyone’s going, ‘Oh, that was hideous!’ So here it is playing out again.”

Some styles still reign supreme, he said, despite the many changes in the industry. “Lace still rules the runway,” Durham offered. “Sweetheart necklines [are] still most preferred, even under the lace cutouts they want a sweetheart neckline.”

But Durham doesn’t just know the next big thing in bridal. He also knows exactly what styles designers are phasing out, as well as what styles brides are starting to turn away from. “We’re finding that [the] plunging neckline and plunging back are coming up a little bit,” Durham shared. “Girls are returning to a little more, shall we say, quieter look in their gowns.”

This softer look that is now sought after often employs a natural waistline complete with soft gathering and pleating, Durham said. “We’re finding that a soft-gathered pleating without a very full skirt — whether it be without a petticoat or a slip underneath it — they like that soft gathering underneath [the natural waistline].”

Many times, however, brides seek out trending styles, whether or not it suits their wedding’s theme. When asked if he’s had to dissuade brides from choosing a design that’s more of-the-moment, Durham let out a big laugh and said matter-of-factly, “Every day.”

“I’m constantly reminding brides that these are your wedding gowns. You’re in a store that sells wedding dresses. And I emphasize that simply because they’re not meant to be on the red carpet,” he said. “They’re not meant to be a fashion statement. They’re not meant to be extremely comfortable. They’re meant to get you married. They’re your wedding dress. So try to own it in that venue as opposed to, ‘Is it a fashion piece?'”

“We don’t hear as much as you once used to, ‘Well, I want to look back in 20 years and still love my dress,’” Durham continued. “That’s not on the list of when girls come in of what’s important to them about a gown.”

So how does he steer brides away from more trendy pieces?

“It’s one of my biggest challenges sometimes,” Durham shared. But, he has a method that helps narrow down a bride’s options in order to find the perfect dress for her.

“I always say that there are three Fs that we need to follow: there’s fashion, there’s fit and there’s fabric. So the fashion of the gown: what do you view as a fashion piece? What are you saying? And then we’re going to look at the fit: Is a mermaid good for you? Is a column dress? Is a ballgown? Is it just a fit and flare? So once we figure out that — once we figure out the fit that best accompanies your figure — then we can look at the fabric. If you’re marrying on a beach or outside, you want it to be soft and light and flowy. If you’re marrying in a cathedral, you want it a more sophisticated, maybe a silk-satin, a duchess or taffeta, then we need to look at that as well.”

While Durham thinks that pursuing a trend for your wedding day may not always be best, he said that in general, trends can work — all we need is a good mirror and a deliberate approach.

“I will tell you, I think the downfall in fashion for most of us, including men, is that we no longer own three-way mirrors,” he said as he let out a laugh. “Make sure it looks good in the front AND the back, is what I’m saying!”

But, we also have to “make sure that it’s calculated to who you really are,” Durham continued. “If Jackie Kennedy is my style icon, that kind of tells you my style. I prefer to be a little quiet, I like beautiful cuts, I like incredible fabrics, I like beautiful fits, buttons, topstitching — but I like it quiet.”

Referencing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as his style icon wasn’t merely an aside; Durham, who is equally as known for his admiration of the fashion icon as he is for his fashion prowess, will be sharing his favorite photos of Jackie O on social media throughout the month of July in an ad-libbed holiday of sorts he’s coined, “Jackie July.”

Mentioning Onassis as the quintessence of creating and maintaining a simple, yet elegant style that transcends time and trends, Durham said the reason why her look still resonates today boils down to one word: consistency. “She was consistent,” he offered. “Her hair was always very slim in a bob, triple strand of pearls — she accessorized a lot with pearls … I think the consistency of her look sealed it a lot for her.”

Thus, when pursuing a trend, Durham said that it takes more than just stepping into some new clothes. “If I’m going to step out of [a] genre, I’m going to make sure my hair matches it, I would make sure my makeup fits into it. I mean, if you’re changing your fashion for a really runway or avant-garde look, make sure you do the total package — just don’t buy the outfit.”

Although trends can take a bit of maneuvering to incorporate into your big day (and into your everyday life), there are some classic wedding dress silhouettes that tend to flatter every woman’s body type, according to Durham.

“Every bride looks good in a ballgown,” he chuckled. “I don’t know what it is, but just put on a ballgown, cinch in the waist, you’ve got this big skirt around you — honey, it reads wedding, it looks beautiful and everyone looks good in a ballgown. I don’t care what size you are or how tall you are, you can carry off a ballgown, depending upon the skirt volume. Petite women may have a little more of a challenge with a ballgown because the skirts can be overwhelming, but we can make them work.”

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Monte Durham is dressed to the nines in his favorite Paul Smith’s of London jacket as he gets a bride ready for her big day at the Greenbrier Resort. Photo by Daniel Riggs / Contributed by Monte Durham.

Sticking to more classic styles hold true outside of your wedding day, said Durham. Even when getting dressed for work, Durham suggested basic pieces that can be catered to the job you are in — or to the job you are seeking.

“I don’t think you can ever go wrong with those simple sheath dresses, and in dark black and navy blue,” he said. “Navy blue is a beautiful color, too. It lends itself to sophistication and to a business attire without being so formal as a black dress would be,” adding that a cap sleeve can also create a more polished look.

“As you gear your resume to your interview, you can take that simple navy blue dress with a nude heel, you could put a navy blue heel with it if it’s such a conservative role,” Durham offered. “You can put pearls with it, you can put gold chains with it, you can put silver chains with it, you can wear a mirage of scarves … It can just give you the perfect backdrop without having to worry about how to look in different venues.”

Beyond the basics of bridal and workwear, there are even some staple pieces women of all ages should consider having at the ready in their closets — one being a set of pearls, according to Durham.

“An 18 to 20 inch strand of pearls looks good with jeans; I think those are so very important,” he said. “I think a nude shoe right now is on the rise and you can get those in mid-heels to a high heel. I think those are just clean, classic, basic — you can throw those on no matter what you’re wearing. And I think every woman should have a decent bag, and I don’t mean one to throw your water bottle in and put your folders in. I mean, just a nice bag.”

Another important thing that often goes unconsidered: keeping your makeup fresh. “You have to do it twice a year: go, sit down at a makeup counter, and have an assessment,” Durham suggested. “Spring is different colors than what you wear in the fall.”

In the spring, Durham advised switching out your mascara from black to brown to lighten up your look, while also adjusting your lipstick and eyeshadow shades and adding bronzer to your makeup routine. Autumn brings darker colors like oranges and browns, said Durham, which we should also look to include during the season.

While a more simple aesthetic is recommended by Durham, he said that there is one forum in which young women can experiment with their style — their high school proms.

“Prom, I always say, is like opening a box of Skittles,” he said. “In prom, this is where you want to be fashion. You’re young, you’re energetic, you’ve got the world by the tail — go for it, because when you get a little older, you’ll be a little more reserved about fashion.”

With his fifth year as the host and stylist for TLC’s Say Yes to the Prom recently wrapped and a sixth on the way, the initiative aims to help deserving young women and men achieve the prom look of their dreams. With over 700 gowns donated by Sherri Hill, countless tuxedos donated by Men’s Wearhouse and hairstylists provided by Paul Mitchell Schools, students were pampered by Durham and his team as they helped them get ready for this biggest night of their young lives. But for Durham, Say Yes to the Prom is about more than just dresses and tuxedos — it reminds him of his own childhood in West Virginia.

“I grew up very poor, and I understand what it’s like to struggle and to want to have something for a special occasion. So when I heard their stories and their plight, it was just a natural fit. I had to [get involved],” he said.

As soon as he stood before the students, Durham said he was compelled to share his story:

“You know you see me in these beautiful suits and see me at this great hotel we’re at now,” he said he tells the young women and men. “You see me on TV, but you didn’t see me carrying water because we didn’t have inside plumbing. You didn’t see me having to go out at night in the cold to go to an outside toilet. You didn’t see me going to school in a one-room schoolhouse, is how I started. You didn’t see me when we moved to Virginia and people bullied and made fun of my clothes and how I talked. You didn’t see that, but that happened to me, too.”

While Durham’s “Say Yes” ventures are certainly rewarding, he also has a few other gratifying projects in the works. In fact, the television star even has is own iPhone app called, “The Full Monte,” in which users can pose fashion questions to the style guru and receive personalized advice delivered to them via a voice recording. As if that’s not enough to keep Durham busy, he also has his own haircare line; simply called, “Monte,” each letter of his name stands for a different step in the haircare line, starting with a moisturizing shampoo and ending with an ever-hold hairspray.

Durham even mentioned he also has a makeup line in the works, thus completing the trinity of his talents. The motto behind his haircare and forthcoming skincare lines: “You don’t need a lot of product if you have the right product.”

Recently given the Most Distinguished West Virginian award by the Secretary of State of West Virginia, Durham is certainly making a name for himself, but it seems his success has not jaded him, mentioning with a sense of awe after discussing his recent endeavors, “I’m a lucky man.”

Even when posed one last fashion question asking him to consider the most important component of an outfit, Durham didn’t hesitate to share that being gracious is what sets us all apart, no matter our clothing — a testament not only to his Southern decorum, but also to his own palpable sincerity, which makes itself apparent both onscreen and off.

“The thing that sets us all apart is being gracious and having manners. I mean, that really sets a pace; if you’re going to be rude and not mind your manners, [the outfit] doesn’t matter.”

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