Former Miss America Betty Cantrell found some seriously unique ways to marry tradition with modernity in her wedding to Spencer Maxwell on April 13.
The bride, who grew up attending a Greek Orthodox Church in Macon, Georgia, wanted to honor her upbringing while also making the day feel sophisticated and modern—and she was able to achieve that delicate balance by keeping things simple.
“I grew up on a 675-acre farm in rural middle Georgia and knew that I wanted my wedding to reflect that rustic side of my upbringing, as well as the sophisticated, elegant side of me,” she tells The Knot. “Spencer and I were married at my hometown church, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church. I grew up in this church and have always envisioned a Big Fat Greek Wedding in the traditional style of my faith.”
For their big day, Cantrell, 23, enlisted the help of one of her former Miss America tour managers, Liz Brown, who helped the bride remain stress-free in the months leading up to the wedding.
“Liz and I worked together to make sure that our wedding day reflected our personalities, while still maintaining the traditions found within a Greek Orthodox wedding,” Cantrell says. “It also helps that Liz is Greek and understands the importance of balancing tradition while incorporating the personal, contemporary touches we are looking for.”
For Cantrell and Maxwell, 26, personal touches included sweet details such as having both of the bride’s parents scribbling personalized messages on the bottom of her wedding shoe. The pair also had a mouthwatering wedding cake which included a mash-up of their favorite flavors (a layered pound cake with whipped cheesecake filling).
But one thing Cantrell did not want to do was revert to her overly showy pageant days. Even the wedding bands were kept clean and simple, and the bride’s wedding gown was a far cry from the over-the-top pageant dresses she’s worn in the past (Cantrell was crowned Miss America back in 2016). “The detail on the dress is sublime,” she says. “It’s the type of dress that you keep looking closer and closer to see all the magical elements that have gone into the gown.”
Here, Cantrell tells us more about the thoughtful planning that went into her wedding day, and how she managed to remain a “Bridechilla” through it all.
After their traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony at Cantrell’s childhood church (“We stand a lot in the Greek church!” she says), the newlyweds moved the celebrations over to the nearby Morgan View Farm, where their 350 guests were treated to an elegant, rustic space and fresh Georgian air.
The cocktail hour was held by the horse barn, where decorations included enlarged photos from the couple’s engagement session framed in vintage gold frames. Each was displayed on an individual stall door. The party then shifted to the large horse arena for dinner and dancing.
The feel that Cantrell and Maxwell were going for on their wedding day was “Southern, classy, and elegant,” according to the bride. As such, the couple opted for a cohesive vintage vibe that began long before the actual wedding day.
The church for the ceremony was already “fairly ornate,” so the couple primarily let the simple beauty of the space really shine, with the small addition of a dramatic rose arch as the centerpiece for the altar, courtesy of florist Mary Pinson.
At the reception, however, Cantrell says she and her wedding planner played up the “rustic, elegant” vibe they were going for with guests’ tables dressed in crisp white linens with white roses and candles, set against colorful mix-and-match china courtesy of the caterer. Brass chandeliers, paper lanterns and lights hung from the arena ceiling.
“I had the incredible opportunity to be on Say Yes to the Dress, Atlanta, when picking out my wedding dress,” Cantrell explains. “I honestly didn’t have a vision for what I wanted.” The bride didn’t have much of a grasp on what she wanted initially, but one point was certain: All I knew was that I absolutely did not want this dress to look like a pageant dress,” she muses.
After picking out more than 30 gowns at Atlanta boutique Bridals by Lori, it took Cantrell four tries before locking in on an Eve of Milady design. The ivory blush, strapless gown featured a top layer of tulle covered with flowers over a second layer of clear sequins, giving the dress an overall shimmer without being overtly showy. “In the end, it is absolutely the dress of my dreams.”
THE RINGS AND THE ACCESSORIES
Cantrell says she wanted to keep her overall look “classic and timeless,” and so kept her accessories simple and clean. She wore a pair of small pearl and diamond earrings in yellow gold (to match her wedding band), and opted for a fuss-free nude pump for shoes. Something special about her footwear that day, however, was that her parents each wrote a message to her on the bottom of each shoe, a sweet way to “make them that much more special.”
The bride also wanted to keep her wedding band simple, so as not to draw too much attention away from her engagement ring, a platinum band with a cushion cut diamond. “My wedding bands are two yellow bands with small infinity diamonds to wear on either side of my engagement ring,” she says. “Spencer’s wedding band is a simple, wide yellow gold band. He’s great at giving diamonds, but doesn’t care for them for himself!”
THE GROOM’S LOOK
“I may be a little biased, but I have never seen a more handsome groom in my life,” Cantrell tells The Knot. “We chose an ultra-fitted tuxedo to really accentuate his broad back and shoulders against his trim waist. I wanted the wedding to have a classic look, so Spencer was in a simple black tuxedo, white shirt, and black bow tie.”
The couple went with Georgia-based photographer Ashah Smith of Ashah Photography, who documented an incredibly moving first look that featured a slight twist. “Ashah’s gift for photography comes through in her work,” Cantrell muses. “We did an engagement session which really helped us all to get to know each other. It also ensured that our wedding photos would really capture our personalities. I’ve been photographed a lot, and she’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”
THE BRIDAL PARTY
Cantrell wanted her nine best gal pals to be able to show off their personality, and so opted to dress her bridesmaids in a range of colors, including blush, light gray and biscotti. The dresses, which she found at David’s Bridal, featured an A-line skirt cinched at their waists with a slit on the side to ensure the look was “fashion-forward.”
As a former pageant queen, Cantrell is no stranger to bouquets. For her wedding bouquet, however, she wanted to be intentional about showcasing her own against her bridesmaids, and Maxwell’s boutonniere against his groomsmen’s.
As such, her bridal bouquet by Mary Pinson consisted of grey succulents with flowers in blush, ivory, and hints of yellow; her bridesmaids’ arrangements were slightly more simple with white flowers and greenery to contrast against their colorful gowns. Maxwell’s boutonniere similarly displayed colors while his groomsmen’s were white and green.
PassionRoses, the official floral sponsor behind the Miss America competition, graciously donated all the roses for the nuptials.
THE TRADITIONAL TOUCHES
Since Cantrell was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, she and Maxwell abided by the traditional wedding ceremony, which she says “has remained almost entirely unchanged since its origination centuries ago.”
Maxwell even secretly learned a special Greek dance called the “zeibekiko,” which he and Cantrell performed during the reception. Their wedding favors–“koufeta,” or five white candy coated almonds in a white organza bag–were also a nod to the bride’s traditional Greek Orthodox roots. The almonds are considered good luck for the bride and groom, and symbolize the dual bitterness and sweetness inherent to a good life and a good marriage.
Neither Cantrell nor Maxwell are big into cakes, so they tried to fuse what favorite bits they have into an ideal cake. The result was a mash-up of a layered pound cake with real cheesecake whipped to be both filling and icing for the towering piece of art. The semi-naked cake by Anderson’s Bakery was decorated with fresh flowers and a simple gold script “Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell” cake topper.
Food was definitely a big part of the couple’s wedding day (“It wouldn’t be a Big Fat Greek Wedding without a cocktail hour and food!” Cantrell says), and the newlyweds made sure their guests were well fed throughout the night. The dinner, also prepared by the team at Anderson’s Bakery, Catering & BBQ, included Greek lemon herb chicken, Greek roasted potatoes, and assorted breads, in addition to an impressive prime rib carving station.
The caterers also offered up a wide array of sweets in addition to a #MaxwellHouse coffee bar; for late-night munchies, the couple satiated guests with an offering of Chick-fil-A nuggets.
The couple danced to Cantrell’s own original song for their first dance, a ballad titled “Sway,” which held special meaning for both the bride and groom. “I am a singer/songwriter, and our first dance song is one that I wrote about my love for Spencer,” she says, adding, that she did not, in fact, sing at the wedding.
With the help of their DJ Rusty Pearson of Entourage Entertainment, the newlyweds kept the rest of the evening up-beat with a hand-selected playlist that incorporated some traditional Greek songs for Greek dancing and steered clear of wedding staples like “Celebration” and “Proud Mary.”
“I have no worries or concerns going into the future with Spencer by my side as my husband,” Cantrell concludes to The Knot. “He makes every day better and brighter just by being alive and being faithfully mine. He is my best friend in the entire world and I don’t want to go one second without him right there with me as my husband and manager. He is the last of his kind. … I love him with every ounce of my being and with every breath I take, I live to love him the way that he loves me.”
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