One wedding dress, 5 brides: CEO lends strangers her gown

By | May 5, 2021

Brides are saying “Yes” to a fashion entrepreneur’s hand-me-down wedding dress.

Spanx founder Sara Blakely is loaning out her old strapless, lace Saks Fifth Avenue gown to grateful brides-to-be.

And after a year of social distancing, the businesswoman’s bigheartedness is bonding women — 5 ladies and counting — together in a touching way. 

“Wearing Sara Blakely’s wedding dress was literally my dream come true,” Manhattan-based Renata Franco, 24, told The Post. 

She was one of the many hopefuls who answered Blakely’s March 2020 Instagram call-out, offering her matrimonial garb to women whose weddings were wrecked by the pandemic

Roughly 70 percent of engaged couples rescheduled or called off their weddings due to COVID-19 last year, according to Wedding Report, an industry research site. 

Spanx CEO Sara Blakely wore the strapless, tea-length gown for her 2008 nuptials. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she posted on Instagram offering to lend the size 4 dress to brides whose wedding plans were affected by COVID-19.
Spanx CEO Sara Blakely wore the strapless, tea-length gown for her 2008 nuptials. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, she posted on Instagram offering to lend the size 4 dress to brides whose wedding plans were affected by COVID-19.
Joe Photo

“My heart is breaking for all the brides out [there] having to cancel and postpone their special day,” Blakely, 50, wrote on the social-media platform.    

“So I thought why not offer my dress to more amazing women,” the undergarment mogul added, prompting candidates to raise their hands in her Instagram comments. 

Franco, now a newlywed New Yorker originally from São Paulo, Brazil, immediately responded: “I would love to wear your dress.” A Spanx rep then reached out over direct message to ask more questions about her relationship and how COVID-19 messed up their wedding plans.

Renato Franco, was the fifth woman to wear the gown, after she responded to an Instagram post about it. She married husband Fabio Meza on April 3 in Manhattan.
Renato Franco, was the fifth woman to wear the gown, after she responded to an Instagram post about it. She married husband Fabio Meza on April 3 in Manhattan.
Thalles Gomes

She was forced to postpone her fairytale nuptials with fiancé Fabio Meza, 30, when the pandemic hit the city last spring

The pair met in São Paulo during the 2014 World Cup. Franco then relocated to Manhattan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Mercy College.

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And while she hadn’t purchased any wedding regalia ahead of the shutdown, her plans to tie the knot in front of her family — who had been approved for travel visas to the US from São Paulo — were canceled.  

But her luck changed once the benevolent girl-boss placed her size 4 frock on the borrowing block. 

The tea-length number by designer Edgardo Bonilla is one of the two dresses Blakely donned when she exchanged vows with entrepreneur Jesse Itzler in 2008. She also stunned in all-white wedding couture that was first worn by her late grandmother in 1918. (Those precious threads aren’t being shared with the public.)

The dress Blakely is loaning out, however, was previously gifted to two other brides-in-need before quarantine: her good friend Julie Gruber, then musician Nataly Dawn, who she met while hiking.

Before the pandemic, musician Nataly Dawn borrowed the dress for her May 2016 marriage to bandmate Jack Conte, after meeting Blakely just once, while hiking.
Before the pandemic, musician Nataly Dawn borrowed the dress for her May 2016 marriage to bandmate Jack Conte, after meeting Blakely just once, while hiking.
Jeff Marini

Now, Blakely has made a practice of sharing her gown. The Spanx maven and her team ship the dress to each bride-to-be, free of charge, along with a gift bag full of her brand’s signature shapewear goodies. After the wedding, the brides don’t even have to pay to have the gown cleaned.

Blakely — worth an estimated $ 610 million, according to Forbes — covers the laundering costs, as well as the return shipping fees.

Six weeks before her wedding, LeJeanne Thomas’s dressmaker closed her shop due to COVID. Thomas — above with son Dylan —wore Blakely’s gown for her May 2020 ceremony.
Six weeks before her wedding, LeJeanne Thomas’s dressmaker closed her shop due to COVID. Thomas — above with son Dylan — wore Blakely’s gown for her May 2020 ceremony.
Michelle Davina

Franco is one of the few fiancées selected amid the outbreak to join the hosiery honcho’s gown-sharing trend. The movement echoes the theme of early 2000s book-turned-movie “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

LeJeanne Thomas, 41, was the first bride to walk down the aisle in Blakely’s lacy frock during the pandemic.

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The gown came after Thomas’ seamstress contracted COVID and shut down her bridal shop in Atlanta last March — six weeks before her wedding day. 

“Being chosen to wear Sara Blakely’s dress meant the world to me,” the Georgia-based candle shop owner told The Post. 

Thomas dazzled in the gown during her backyard wedding to husband Daniel in May. 

“Her generosity is proof that showing kindness to strangers in need is the greatest act of love,” she said of Blakely, who has also reportedly donated money towards fighting food insecurity in Atlanta, and granted $ 5 million to more than 1,000 female small-business owners amid the virus. 

Franco, an aspiring fashion entrepreneur herself, said that wearing Blakely’s gown for her intimate city ceremony with Meza on April 3 was joyful.

Julie Gruber wore pal Blakely’s gown for her April 2010 nuptials in San Diego.
Julie Gruber wore pal Blakely’s gown for her April 2010 nuptials in San Diego.
Garrett photography

“I’ve always looked up to her, and I’m so honored that her wedding dress created a connection between us and other women,” Franco said, noting that she plans to thank Blakely for her altruism in-person one day.

“When I put the dress on, I was blown away,” she said.

She and Meza celebrated their holy matrimony with a Times Square wedding photo shoot and a Shake Shack dinner reception in Madison Square Park.

“I could literally feel the love of the other women who’ve worn it before me,” she added. 

Living | New York Post