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A bride's custom wedding dress included a removable bodice that turned into the perfect top for her after-party look

A bride's custom wedding dress included a removable bodice that turned into the perfect top for her after-party look
  • Caroline and Matthew Birdwell got married in Atlanta on May 13, 2023.

  • Caroline's custom wedding dress had an architectural neckline and a full skirt.

  • She also added a removable bodice to the outfit that doubled as an after-party top.

Caroline and Matthew Birdwell crossed paths on a dating app in 2019.

A bride and groom lean against each other and smile.
Caroline and Matthew Birdwell at their rehearsal dinner.Be Light Photography

Caroline, 28, and Matthew, 32, matched on Hinge a week before Thanksgiving 2019 in Dallas, where they still live today, Caroline told Insider.

They were immediately smitten with one another, but Caroline said she had some trepidation about getting involved with Matthew because he was an attorney and was working late hours at the time.

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"I was like, 'Hey, this isn't really for me. I'm obviously not going to tell you to stop working, but I like to go to bed early, and I just don't see how this could work when you're really into your job,'" she said she told Matthew at the time.

Matthew told Caroline he would happily cut back on his hours — and gave her a puppy to keep her company for the occasions he had to work late. They've been together ever since.

Matthew proposed to Caroline in May 2022 in Central Park.

A bride and groom hold hands and walk together.
They got engaged in 2022.Be Light Photography

Caroline's parents and brother were in New York for the proposal, and Matthew surprised Caroline by flying her closest friends out for the moment as well.

"It was the most perfect, incredible day," she said.

As the Birdwells started talking about their wedding, they knew they wanted a classic event.

"Matt and I are just very traditional," Caroline told Insider, adding that she wanted to keep the wedding "timeless" because she didn't want to look back at her wedding photos down the line and regret leaning too heavily into any trends.

They decided to get married in Atlanta, where Caroline is from and where her family still lives, at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta on May 13, 2023. Sara Divine planned their big day.

Caroline knew she wanted a timeless dress to match her vision for the wedding.

A bride and groom laugh on a bench.
She wanted a classic wedding look.Be Light Photography

"I had an idea of what I thought I wanted," she told Insider of her vision for her wedding dress. "I thought I wanted strapless. I didn't think I wanted something very tight because I knew that I would be kind of self-conscious."

Caroline decided to try on a variety of types of dresses at bridal appointments to ensure she found the right dress for her, and although she gravitated toward strapless, A-line gowns as she anticipated, no existing dress was exactly right.

But when she went to BW Designs Inc. she immediately connected with the owner and designer, Britt Wood.

"He got my vision. He understood that I wanted something big and pretty but timeless," Caroline said of Wood. "There's this very specific 3D appliqué lace that I wanted. And he was like, 'Oh, is it this 3D appliqué lace?' He had literally just got five yards of it in from New York."

Wood ended up custom-designing Caroline's dress.

The gown designed by Britt Wood fit Caroline's vision perfectly.

A bride poses in her wedding dress on a lawn.
Britt Wood designed the wedding dress.Be Light Photography

Her dress, which Wood described as "formal with a hint of whimsy," had the strapless neckline and full skirt Caroline was looking for.

The bodice had architectural detailing, including raised edges and a dip in the center of the neckline that gave it a modern edge.

It was ready for fittings 10 weeks after Wood designed it.

Wood also added pleats to the skirt to give it a bit of movement.

A bride poses in her wedding dress.
Caroline Birdwell wanted her skirt to have pleats.Be Light Photography

The subtle pleats in the skirt were one of the first aspects of the dress Caroline asked Wood about as they started designing it.

"I am a smaller girl. I'm only 5'4," Caroline said. "So to wear a dress that's that big, it needed a little more detailing to make it not look like it was swallowing me."

The delicate folds in the skirt gave it more shape, so Caroline felt like she was wearing the dress instead of the other way around.

The simple silhouette was elevated by button detailing on the back.

A bride faces away from a camera in her wedding dress.
The back was lined with buttons.Be Light Photography

Buttons lined the center of the gown in the back, though Caroline told Insider most of them were just for the aesthetic, not function.

"Only three or four of them were working buttons," she said. "Everything else was just for prettiness. But I just thought the way that it looked on the skirt was just a timeless, perfect look."

Caroline said her wedding dress made her feel like herself.

A bride smiles and holds her bouquet in an area full of greenery.
She felt like herself in the wedding dress.Be Light Photography

Caroline said she felt confident putting on her custom gown on her wedding day.

"The dress itself was very comfortable. The bodice wasn't too tight. I wasn't pulling it up all night," she went on to say. "And I felt very normal in it, which I think is really important."

"What I wore on such an important day in my life felt very me," Caroline added.

Wood also told Insider that Caroline's clear vision for her gown made the design process smoother.

"She did her homework and came to me with every aspect of her gown that she wanted, and it was absolutely perfection when it came to life," he said.

Caroline's mom also surprised her with a nod to her grandmothers hidden in the dress.

A bride lifts up her wedding dress to reveal a piece of heart-shaped lace.
Pieces of her grandmothers' wedding gowns were sewn into the dress.Be Light Photography

Caroline's maternal grandmother died before she was born, and her paternal grandmother died when she was 15. Both were significant in her parents' lives and her own, so acknowledging them on the wedding day felt important.

Caroline's mom surprised her by having Wood sew patches of both women's wedding gowns into the underskirt of her dress. There was a white heart from her paternal grandmother's dress and a blue diamond made of tulle from her maternal grandmother's gown, so they acted as her something old and something blue.

Caroline discovered the surprise at one of her final bridal fittings, and she said she immediately teared up.

"That was really emotional and special, and we all cried," she said. "It was really, really special that I got to have those little bits of them there."

Caroline's wedding bouquet was also wrapped in a piece of fabric from her maternal grandmother's wedding gown.

"They were definitely there on the day," Caroline said of her grandmothers.

Matthew saw Caroline's wedding dress in a first look ahead of the ceremony.

A side-by-side of a groom seeing his bride for the first time.
The Birdwells did a first look.Be Light Photography

Matthew was emotional when he saw Caroline walking toward him in her wedding dress.

"We have a picture from our first look where we can only see his face, and it's so cute," she said of his reaction. "It's my favorite picture."

Just like Caroline, Matthew thought her gown was very her.

"It was exactly what he pictured me to be in," the bride said.

Caroline also did a first look with her dad, and he was even more emotional than Matt. "My dad cried the entire weekend," she said.

The groom's ensemble fit with the bride's timeless look.

A bride and groom smile for a photo on a lawn.
The bride and groom on their wedding day.Be Light Photography

Like Caroline, Matthew kept his wedding day look traditional.

His tuxedo included a white jacket, black pants, and a black bow tie. Loafers completed the ensemble.

Caroline added a removable bodice and a veil to her ceremony look.

A bride walks into her wedding ceremony with her father.
The bodice could be removed.Be Light Photography

Although Caroline had her heart set on a strapless gown, she also knew she wanted some more coverage for her ceremony.

"I had seen a couple of Monique Lhuillier dresses that were like that, and I just thought it was such a pretty look for the ceremony," she said. "And then you get almost a second look for your reception dress."

The bodice had a high neckline.

A bride smiles at her groom and holds his hands under a floral archway.
The bodice was made of lace.Be Light Photography

The short-sleeve bodice was made entirely of the 3D appliqué lace Caroline asked Wood about when they first met. It had a high neckline, and it sat at the same place on her waist as the strapless bodice did, allowing the skirt to shine.

Wood told Insider he started the design of the entire dress with the lace, as it "set the tone for what the base of the gown should be."

Melissa of Custom Bridal Modifications tailored the bodice, as well as Caroline's floor-length veil, so it fit exactly as she wanted it.

The removable bodice also turned into a top for her after-party.

A bride and groom leave their wedding as their guests raise sparklers around them.
She wore the bodice as a top at the end of the wedding.Be Light Photography

Caroline knew she wanted to stay in one dress for the duration of her wedding, but she loved that the removable top gave her an easy look for her wedding exit.

She paired the intricate lace piece with white shorts, and she said she hopes to re-wear it in the future when celebrating her anniversary or other relationship milestones.

Caroline said knowing what she wanted was crucial when it came to designing a custom wedding dress.

A bride holds a bouquet in front of an oversized floral archway.
The bride thought the dress was perfect.Be Light Photography

Looking back at designing her gown, Caroline said she wouldn't change a thing.

"I have no regrets. I have no notes," she said. "The fact that I worked with someone who really just understood my vision and understood exactly what I wanted is a huge part of that."

"From the second we met, he understood what I wanted," she added, speaking of Wood.

But Caroline also said she thought the process was easy because she was clear about her vision, even if her instinct was to please people most of the time.

"This is one of the more important experiences of your life. You're also spending a lot of money on this. You want it to be exactly what you want it to be," she said. "Don't be afraid to tell someone, 'no.'"

"Be honest, and you'll get what you want because you voiced it," Caroline added.

The Birdwells created their timeless wedding aesthetic with an abundance of white flowers.

A bride and groom kiss in front of an oversized floral archway.
Britt Wood provided the flowers.Be Light Photography

In addition to designing Caroline's dress, Wood also provided the florals for the Birdwells' nuptials, which she said made everything work together.

"Everything was cohesive to my dress," she added. "The vibes all matched."

They also made a band and black-and-white checkered dance floor centerpieces of the wedding.

A bride and groom dance on a black-and-white checked dance floor.
The dance floor fit the look.Be Light Photography

Both Caroline's parents and Matt wanted to prioritize a band, which made it an easy choice.

They also made sure the reception captured their vibe as a couple with little touches, such as an espresso martini with their monogram on it.

Having all of their loved ones in one place was the highlight of the wedding for the Birdwells.

A bride and groom grin at each other as their bridal party stands behind them.
The couple loved being surrounded by their most important people.Be Light Photography

"We're both so family-oriented, and we have so many people that have been in our lives separately for so long," she said.

"My matron of honor has been my best friend since I was five years old," Caroline went on to say. "Her siblings were there, and her parents were there. And Matt has all his college friends that were there and their kids that ended up traveling with the parents to come."

"It's really special and cool to see all these people from all different parts of your life come together and want to celebrate you," she added.

Caroline also went out of her way to make Matthew feel special on their wedding day.

A bride and groom embrace and kiss. She holds her bouquet as she embraces him.
She gave him a journal full of letters.Be Light Photography

"I had been working on this journal to give Matt since we got engaged," she said. "I kept notes, like diary entries, in my phone of special moments throughout our engagement. The first few days after our engagement, when we moved into our first place together, our engagement party, all these milestones."

She turned those notes into a series of letters for Matthew, which she documented in a journal.

Caroline had someone deliver the journal to Matt on the morning of their wedding so he knew how she felt about him.

Likewise, Matthew paid tribute to Caroline at their rehearsal dinner.

A bride and groom hold hands and look at each other on a couch.
Matthew said Caroline was his "why."Be Light Photography

Throughout their wedding week, Caroline said she and Matthew referred to each other as "wi" and "hus" because they were half-married.

The inside joke became the inspiration for a speech the groom gave at the rehearsal dinner.

"He was like, 'when you break down wife, the first part is why, and the last part is fee. And Caroline really is my why,'" Caroline said of Matthew's speech. "'She's why I get up in the morning. She's why I work so hard.'"

"It was so sweet and so sentimental, and then he goes, 'And my fee, well, you can just look at my bank statement for that,'" which made everyone laugh, as Caroline told Insider. "It was just really sweet and sentimental and funny and silly."

"He really is like my other half in a way that I didn't know was possible," Caroline said of her husband.

A groom holds his bride's face and smiles at her.
Matthew brings Caroline peace.Be Light Photography

"The feeling of true inner peace and calmness that I feel and that I felt throughout our whole relationship is not something I ever knew was possible or I ever even knew it was missing in my life," she said.

"I think I'm really the most authentic, truest version of myself with him by my side," Caroline added.

If you wore an eye-catching wedding dress and want to talk to Insider for a story, get in touch at sgrindell@insider.com.

Read the original article on Insider