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Brides-to-be waiting for inspiration to be unveiled at royal wedding

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Perched in the front row, Emily Ehehalt watched as flashes of ivory ruffles, creamy taffeta and eggshell lace swept by on a runway.

The recently engaged Ehehalt was attending a local bridal fashion show looking for ideas for her January 2012 wedding. But many of the trends being shown now, prime wedding-planning season, might be out of date come April 29, when Catherine Elizabeth "Kate" Middleton and Prince William of Wales are scheduled to tie the knot.

"I love her style," Ehehalt said. "I love her ring and dress that she wore to her engagement" announcement.

It follows that Ehehalt, a 27-year-old Federal Hill resident who works in community outreach for Johns Hopkins Hospital's department of neurosurgery, might take a page from Middleton when it comes time to choose her dress for the big day. She'll be watching the wedding, along with much of the rest of the world, looking for ideas.

The coming royal wedding is drawing attention from many quarters. Brides-to-be are living vicariously through the unfolding romance. And event planners, stylists and others in the wedding industry know this event will affect styles in areas including gowns, hair and flower arrangements.

Lerkia Lee-Tidball, a stylist at Modage, a bridal-styling business in Laurel, has been keeping in contact with her friends in London for whatever details emerge about the wedding.

"We have been totally following the trends," she said, adding that she expects a number of customers asking for things they might spot during the event. "There hasn't been a huge wedding of this magnitude in years."

At Cavallaro & Co., the Columbia hair salon, employees and customers have been talking about the coming wedding.

"Brides this year are going to be following that look," said co-owner Becky Wibberley. "It's in your face every day. Who doesn't want to look like her?"

Middleton — a brunette who has been listed on a number of "best-dressed" lists — has quickly become a model for brides-to-be. With her down-to-earth nature and her rise from relative obscurity, she has become a likable and relatable figure to many women.

"I think it is sort of every girl's dream that she is marrying a prince and she is a commoner," said Ehehalt, who also praised Middleton's "classy but fashionable" look. "It's very romantic."

Bride-to-be Crystal Jefferson also plans to watch the wedding for inspiration.

"I just want to see how the rich do it, and to draw some ideas from it," she said.

Jefferson, a registered nurse, has picked a church and pastor for her wedding, but she has yet to pick out the all-important dress. First, she'd like to see what Middleton chooses, even though they don't share the same body type.

"With her body, I see her doing a mermaid dress," Jefferson said. " I'm not sure that I fit in that mold." But she added that she'd likely follow Middleton's lead when it comes to selecting the material for her wedding dress.

But what will the dress look like?

Middleton is reportedly under pressure to "buy British," and dress designers such as Phillipa Lepley, Bruce Oldfield and Elizabeth Emanuel, who co-designed Princess Diana's wedding dress, are said to be early favorites. American designers, including Rachel Roy, have been rumored to have submitted dress designs. And with good reason. The designer whose dress is chosen is likely to see a huge spike in sales. Even the blue dress Middleton wore for her engagement announcement, by Brazilian designer Daniela Helayel of Issa, sold out within 24 hours, according to several media outlets.

"So many gown designers are really bidding on Kate's gown," said Drew Vanlandingham, owner and president of Vanlandingham Design Studio, a wedding event planning firm based in Ellicott City. "It's really a toss-up."

Ultimately, couples are going to base their wedding on their own tastes — even those emulating William and Kate, according to Vanlandingham.

"I think they will want to find something that is very similar," he said. "The royal wedding is a big thing. It's been so long since many have seen a royal wedding, they don't know what it's like."

The wedding industry is also keeping close tabs on the event. Many are looking for whatever pieces of information they can get about the wedding, which has been extremely difficult to come by because royal protocol dictates that no details about the gown are released until Middleton appears the day of the wedding.

"She [Middleton] can definitely inspire brides in more ways than one," said Lee-Tidball, who has not wasted any time jumping on the royal bandwagon. At a recent bridal fashion show, "Style to the Aisle ... A Bride's Runway," Lee-Tidball handed out blue sapphire cocktail rings. Her inspiration? Middleton's engagement ring — a blue sapphire and diamond ring that belonged to the late Princess Diana.

Lee-Tidball mentioned Nicole Richie's December wedding to Joel Madden as a recent standout.

"It was over the top," she said. "She had an elephant!"

Former first child Chelsea Clinton's wedding attracted a lot of media attention, but it didn't drive brides-to-be to copy her look. Jessica Simpson's 2002 wedding to Nick Lachey, on the other hand, inspired a number of couples that year. One wedding planner said Simpson's white bouquet was repeated in hundreds of weddings.

But the most influential wedding of all time was probably that of Prince William's mother, the late Diana, to Prince Charles in 1981. The event revolutionized the wedding industry, according to Betsy Robinson, owner of Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection in Pikesville.

Before Diana's wedding, smaller ceremonies and celebrations were more commonplace, Robinson said.

"When she got married, it put weddings in the spotlight," Robinson said. "Yes, there were weddings [before it], but nothing like that."

Besides changing the scope of weddings, the event also spawned bridal fashion changes, thanks to Diana's iconic style sense.

"Fashion-wise, things were quite simple before her wedding," Robinson recalled. "And then Lady Di comes along with the silk sleeves and long train. It really did change how the brides wanted to look."

Robinson remembers being stocked with four variations of Diana's wedding dress about 10 days after the 1981 ceremony, and she expects to see knockoffs of Middleton's dress shortly after April 29, too.

Middleton "will definitely have an impact on the future dresses," said Robinson.

She added that her shop has been abuzz with talk of the royal wedding since the engagement.

"For the generation growing up with Disney princesses, this is the real one. It's kind of neat," said Robinson, who is planning some type of "watching party" the day of the wedding. "For some reason people are just drawn to the royals."

Vanlandingham expects to see the "royal effect" carrying into 2012.

"They [brides] aren't going to want the same thing — but they are going to want the same look, and to make sure they can afford it," he said.

Ehehalt, the bride-to-be from Federal Hill, hopes that Middleton's dress stays true to her classy and fashionable style — maybe like something Vera Wang would design, she said.

She will be watching the wedding — with her girlfriends — for entertainment and for inspiration.

"I've been following it a little bit," she said with a laugh. "I won't be surprised if we get together and watch it with a couple of my friends in Federal Hill with a bottle of wine."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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