By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Buckingham Palace expects record crowds this summer, when up to 650,000 people are set to file into Queen Elizabeth's London residence and past the dress worn by Kate Middleton at her royal wedding to Prince William.
The ivory and white garment, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, won over the fashion press and public when Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge and a future queen, walked up the aisle of Westminster Abbey in April.
In the run-up to the fairytale wedding, details of the outfit were a closely guarded secret, known only to the handful of people who worked on the dress.
Hundreds of millions of viewers admired it on television and the internet, and now hundreds of thousands will see it for themselves, unprotected on a raised oval stage in the ornate palace ballroom where state banquets are held.
Reflecting the surge in interest in the royals after the marriage and the newlyweds' recent trip to North America, advanced ticket sales for the summer tour of Buckingham Palace have hit 126,000, up 107 percent on the same point last year.
In total a record 643,000 people are expected to take the tour, during which visitors can see 19 state rooms, a display of Faberge jewelry -- and the dress, Middleton's wedding shoes, earrings and a silk replica of her bouquet.
Above the dress is the original veil and Cartier "halo" tiara worn by the bride, featuring around 900 diamonds and lent to her for the occasion by the queen.
Caroline de Guitaut, curator of decorative arts at the Royal Collection, said the royal couple, whose wedding drew huge crowds to the streets of London, had striven for modesty as well as beauty and grandeur on the big day.
"They wanted the wedding to be modest as far as an occasion of that kind can be modest," De Guitaut told reporters at a press preview of the display.
"There is a sense of modesty in this dress. I think it will stand the test of time, definitely."
QUEEN AND DUCHESS TO VISIT
In a video made after the wedding and for the exhibition, designer Burton talked in detail about the painstaking process of making the dress and its 2.7-meter train.
Middleton was closely involved in the design process as well as in the decision to display the dress in Buckingham Palace. The queen and duchess were due to visit the display on Friday.
"What is so astounding ... is just how much thought and extraordinary work and craftsmanship and skill went into it," said De Guitaut.
Even the wedding cake is on show in a glass cabinet in the state dining room, complete with ornate sugar flowers and a deep cut where the couple plunged in the knife.
The other major attraction for visitors this year is a display of around 100 pieces from the British monarchy's unparalleled collection of works by Russian jeweler Faberge.
The exhibition, which features highlights from a total of 600-700 Faberge creations owned by the royals, ranged from treasures bought by and given to Queen Victoria to a recent bequest to heir to the throne Prince Charles.
"Many of these pieces are still in use," said De Guitaut. "Clocks, for example, are still on desks and (picture) frames are still used in private apartments. It's still a living collection."
The summer opening at Buckingham Palace runs from July 23 to October 3.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Tim Pearce)