Lori Allen admits she’s no writer. But she loves to talk and dispense advice.
With help from ghostwriter Kay Diehl, the host of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta" and owner of Bridals by Lori was able to blend memoir and self-help into a book called "Say Yes to What's Next," out Tuesday, July 14. (You can buy it here.)
Now 60, Allen said she had seen way too many women her age decide to just give up on life in terms of taking care of their looks, their wardrobe, their dreams and their relationships.
And it perturbed her that so many people hae begun asking her when she’s going to retire. She has no desire to do so any time soon.
“Over and over they ask me,” Allen said. “People seem to want to shoo us older women away. Same with advertising. It’s not geared to us. We have so much buying power, yet all they do is try to sell us Depends and walkers. It made me madder and madder.”
She joined her daughter Mollie Surratt, who owns a marketing agency, and prepared a book proposal. Thomas Nelson signed on last year. Last August, she, Mollie and Diehl sequestered themselves at Chateau Elan for a week and shaped the book, which they finished in December.
“I agonized over every sentence,” Allen said. “I’m a perfectionist. I want it to be meaningful. I wanted it set in my voice.”
Diehl, the ghostwriter who has written books with Esther Williams, Dan Rather and Natalie Cole, said it was a joy to work with Allen. “It wasn’t like I was coming in cold,” she said. “It was like working with someone I already knew. What comes through about Lori whether in person or on TV is her absolute rock-solid genuineness. There is no artifice, and I think that’s part of why she’s successful.”
The toughest chapter, Diehl said, was recounting Allen’s breast cancer battle in 2012. Allen’s husband Eddie was fighting cancer at the same time. She had options and ultimately chose a double mastectomy.
“It was very difficult to make a decision like that,” Allen said, “to cut out something like that.” Though she has replacements, she can no longer feel anything from her collar bone to her ribs.
Her book might have come out sooner, but she had an accident last year that now opens the book: falling flat on her face during a “Say Yes to the Dress” promo shoot and slipping on a wedding dress train.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
She broke two wrists, her nose and two ribs and ended up with a concussion. She learned she had osteoporosis, which meant more surgery work than if she were younger. Diehl said despite the painful, frustrating recuperation, Allen’s resilience shined through during this period.
“It’s times like these you have to dig deep and find out how strong you are and how much faith you have,” Allen said. “You need to push forward.”
Allen found her passion early and has stuck with it: she opened a bridal shop out of college four decades ago and now has sold dresses to families of multiple generations.
“I’ve been mentoring women my whole life since I opened the store,” she said.
Allen in the book talks about the guilt of being a working mom with inadequate child care options in the 1980s.
Fortunately, she said, her two children came out just fine.
“Talking about all that was really therapeutic for both of us,” Allen’s daughter Mollie said. “Now that I’m a working mom, I see her in a different light.”
Allen also broaches difficult topics such as clashing with her in-laws and dealing with stubborn, aging parents.
“I cried many times writing this book,” Allen said. “And recording the audiobook was hard, so hard. I would get choked up so many times. It took three days. I felt like I had run a marathon after it was over.”
Allen also has a superpower gained from decades of experience: she can generally tell whether a marriage will last based on how the bride acts during the dress buying experience.
“I have brides obsessed with three beads on the dress, but you know it’s really something much deeper than that,” she said. “The ones where they are just happy to be married, they’re the ones that will survive.”
She also often ends up talking to the bride’s mom, who will pay a second mortgage to give their daughter a great wedding day but will seek out the cheapest dress possible for themselves. Allen hopes the book will shift those women’s perspectives.
“I look at life as this cookie, and you may have a quarter of it left,” she said. “I want to take it down to the last crumb and enjoy it rather than just let it disintegrate. I want to live my life out in full.”
Her business, while thriving the past decade since the show began, has faced its share of speed bumps. Her shop struggled after 9/11 and the 2008 recession. Of course, the recent pandemic forced her to close two months. “I was scared to death,” she said. “I cried when I locked that door in March to go home.”
Since May, she said, business has picked up, and she’s been able to generate enough business without having to lay off any of her 32 employees.
Even with smaller weddings, women are still buying dresses. “We’re thankful to be back where we are,” she said.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.