As the country is gripped by royal wedding fever, Ian Lamming discovers it has spread to one of the region’s most popular charity stores thanks to the generosity of a local business

AS a charity shop, St T’s is well versed in unusual donations. But staff could have been forgiven for thinking they were being led down the aisle when the offer of 72 wedding dresses came in.

Periodically, Bexbrides of Hurworth, near Darlington, has surplus stock and rather than stick it on eBay or into the trade, owner Rebecca (Bex) Lombard-Earl donates it to a worthy cause. St T’s is the chain of charity shops and a superstore operated by St Teresa’s Hospice, which provides services to patients and their families in Darlington, South Durham and North Yorkshire.

“St Teresa's is very close to our hearts as a team as we have many friends and clients who have needed their services,” says Bex. “So we were thrilled that St T's was happy to take our donation and able to use them to generate much-needed funds for such a worthwhile cause, while also enabling many brides to find their dream dress at a fantastic price.”

Bexbrides is run by Bex and colleagues Abbey Best and Marie Pattinson. Her mum Jane does the cleaning of vintage gowns using traditional products. The business specialises in quirky, individual boho, vintage and retro designs. It also offers a huge choice of designer samples.

“I have been fascinated by vintage clothes and period styling since I was a small child when my grandmother worked in a department store in Derby which reminded me of the TV comedy series ‘Are you being served’,” says Bex, who has been in the bridal industry for ten years and won Dress Designer of the North-East several years running. “I'm passionate about reinventing and upcycling old wedding dresses rather than letting them go to waste, which is especially important today in our throwaway society. Recycling is so important.

“We are also known for our ‘save the day service’, whereby we alter and salvage internet disasters to enable brides to have their dream day at an affordable price. We hand-colour brides’ own material, in line with the current trend of ombre dresses, often after they have found something in a charity shop.

“As we offer a diverse selection of gowns, both new and vintage, we are constantly sourcing and buying samples from designers. We inevitably end up with a surplus which we could sell off cheaply ourselves to other dealers, or online, but instead we prefer to donate them to charity, this time St Teresa’s.”

Interest in bridal attire is at high thanks to today's royal wedding. “We are all very excited to see what the royal wedding dress will be like,” says Bex. “Many are suggesting lace, which is so popular, but we are also seeing lots of brides choose crepe and silk. “We have our own idea of what Meghan will wear. I'd love to see Harry in a suave tweed suit with Meghan in an ethereal boho-style dress, which would suit both of their fun and sunny characters, but I expect they will have to conform with tradition.

“The bridal fashion industry is so exciting at the moment as the trends are so varied. Gone are the days where every bride looked the same. Nowadays anything goes, whether it's a casual boho look or Fifties tea-length or a fitted fishtail or a princess style. Currently lace is still extremely popular, but satin and tafata are making a come back.

The fishtail silhouette is still a favourite but the Forties and Fifties ballgown is becoming increasingly popular again. Lots of brides are loving sleeves and veil capes with illusion bodices and low sheer back detail much sought-after. It’s fantastic that the bridal industry is so vibrant and brides are truly able to be themselves, choosing a gown to suit their personality.”

With a huge stock of dresses available for the community, St T’s turned to Darlington College to help produce marketing material for the collection. Staff volunteered for a photoshoot in the college’s media centre while hair and beauty students transformed the models into blushing brides in order to show off the dresses in their full wedding day glory.

St T’s superstore floor manager Rose Wills says: “We are so grateful to Bex for her unbelievable donation, but also to Darlington College staff and students who organised the video and photoshoot for our social media pages.”

Darlington College’s marketing manager Claire Turner adds: “It has been a fantastic community effort to help a very good cause. It also provided our students with an amazing opportunity to be involved in a professional brief that will really help their portfolios.”