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Kate's royal wedding dress still veiled in mystery

Will it have sleeves? A sweeping train? Antique lace, or bead work?

The questions keep coming, but no one has the answers. Congratulations, Kate Middleton, for keeping your wedding dress the royal wedding's biggest mystery and talking point.

With just two days to go, the world still knows next to nothing about what Prince William's bride will wear to mark her transition from commoner to princess.

"They've done an amazing job at keeping it secret," said Darcy Miller, editorial director at Martha Stewart Weddings. "The secrecy of the designer is making it more of an obsession" for brides and millions of royal fans everywhere, she added.

Barring any leaks in the next 48 hours, the world will not get a good, long look at Middleton's dress until 11 am. local time on Friday, when she crosses the threshold at Westminster Abbey. Meanwhile, it's not hard to make some educated guesses.

Kate's wedding look will likely be modest — covered-up and stately, not strapless or cleavage-showing. It will be special enough for a princess, but it won't be too flashy for a "people's wedding" during austere economic times, or out of sync with Kate's usual pared-down, no-fuss style. It will be set off by her sapphire engagement ring (her "something blue", perhaps) and likely a tiara from the royal collection ("something borrowed").

And it will be created by a British designer, probably with British materials. The strongest contenders are Sarah Burton, creative director at fashion house Alexander McQueen, which has a reputation for precise tailoring and dramatic runway shows; and Bruce Oldfield, an established couture designer specializing in traditional bridal and eveningwear, and a favorite of the late Princess Diana.

"He's as close to Parisian couture as you can get, whilst still supporting a British designer," British Vogue commented in its shortlist of potential dress designers.

Kate's mother, Carole, and sister Pippa have been snapped at his boutique, fueling rumors that he could be designing the gown, the bridesmaid's dress, or the mother-of-the-bride outfit. But Carole and Pippa Middleton have also appeared at Alice Temperley's boutique, and it's anyone's guess what deals, if any, were struck behind the shops' closed doors.

A fourth name that has emerged recently is the lesser-known Sophie Cranston, who worked with McQueen's studio and Temperley before setting up her small label Libelula. The press started speculating on Cranston after Middleton wore a black velvet dress coat she designed to a wedding earlier this year.

While an unlikely choice — Cranston is not experienced in designing bridal gowns — there is a good chance Middleton will pick a less established designer to show that she is a modern new royal who champions budding talent.

Many believe Middleton will wear more than one dress as she moves from one part of the day to the next — a traditional, classic gown for the service in the vast Westminster Abbey, when 2 billion people across the world are expected to gaze upon her, and another, more comfortable dress for the private post-wedding reception at Buckingham Palace. She may also change into a third frock for the "intimate" dinner (with 300 guests) hosted by Prince Charles, as well as for the after-party when the older guests leave and the younger crowd can let their hair down.

"She may need three dresses for a very long day," said Millie Martini Bratten, at Brides Magazine U.S. "A lot of brides are doing the same today, getting a more comfortable reception dress you can dance in. It's what brides are doing across America, and I won't be surprised if Kate does that."

If that's true, Middleton can have more freedom choosing designs that reflect her personal style and preferences. She can wear a more slinky, sexier gown by her favorite label Issa in the evening, and Cranston, who has denied she is making the wedding dress, could also have been drafted in to design the evening outfit.

Designers say that bridal trends — like the currently popular "mermaid" style, a sexy shape that fits around the hips then flares out at the knee — likely wouldn't have influenced Middleton's choice because trends really don't matter when it comes to a royal wedding. Rather, whatever she picks will set the trend for at least a few seasons to come.

Princess Diana's big, fluffy confection of a wedding dress, with its ruffled neckline and poofy sleeves, was "directional" when Elizabeth Emanuel designed it in 1981. More recently, when Chelsea Clinton got married last summer — hailed as the American equivalent of a royal wedding — her Vera Wang gown with swirling organza ball skirt became an instant hit, with hundreds of brides seeking to replicate her look. Wang, arguably the world's best-known bridal designer, soon produced a mass-market version of the dress and sold it through a bridal chain store.

But will Middleton's choice stand the test of time and elevate her to a style icon, like the high-necked, lace-sleeved gown did for Grace Kelly at her 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco?

Amsale Aberra, an Ethiopian bridal designer based in New York, hopes that Middleton stays away from glamorous, high-fashion styles worn by Hollywood stars.

"People are not expecting something you'd see on a runway, or what the celebrities wear," she said. "It's not about the dress, it's about her. It's about a feeling. It's definitely important to keep the tradition, but I hope she make it hers."