The Making of a Royal Wedding Hat

updated 05/16/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tracy Bendall will never forget the moment she stood in the kitchen of her 17th-century farmhouse in Corston, England, and opened a thick, cream envelope with a Buckingham Palace postmark. "I was screaming, absolutely elated," says Bendall, 42, who, with husband Simon, are among a few tenant farmers-they tend a 700-acre property on Duchy of Cornwall land owned by Prince Charles-who scored wedding invites.

The big question: what to wear and, in particular, where to find the perfect hat to go with the classic Caroline Charles dress and floral jacket she bought for the occasion. Her quest led her, through a friend, to stylish Wiltshire milliner Vivien Sheriff, 46. What Bendall didn't know: Sheriff and her four-person team, who designed the feather fascinator Kate wore Feb. 24 at an appearance in Wales, were hard at work on custom creations for some 50 guests-including several Middleton relatives and one for a Palace staffer. "Kate's guests have really gone to town on dramatic headpieces," says Sheriff. A delighted Bendall will fit right in. "I have other wedding hats," she says. "But nothing this grand."

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