The television was on early last Friday morning as Robin Pavia got ready for work. It was tuned to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

When Pavia came out of the shower and glanced at the screen, the royal couple was standing at the altar. That's when she saw the princess' wedding dress, long awaited worldwide.

Except it was Pavia's wedding dress.

Middleton's gown looked just like the one Pavia's mother, Hedwig Kryswicka, bought in New York in 1950. Pavia wore it when she got married in 1978 and her sister wore it after that.

"I thought, `Oh my God,'" Pavia said. "I stood there staring at the television."

The phone rang. It was her lifelong friend, Mary Ellen Chiappetta, who said, "Well, I'll be. That's Hedwig's dress.' "

Hedwig's dress is infamous in the family lore.

Just like the gown worn by Princess Catherine, Hedwig's was off-white with a sweetheart satin bodice covered in lace, a V-neckline, long lace sleeves, covered buttons all the way down the back and a skirt of cascading satin. Hedwig's dress had an 8-foot train. Princess Catherine's train was 8 feet, 8 inches.

But Hedwig's dress was hard-won.

She grew up on Ludlow Street in Stamford's South End, daughter of Polish immigrants. She got a good job at a neighborhood construction company and gave her widowed mother money from her paycheck each week. Hedwig saved a portion of the check for a wedding dress.

When she became engaged to Robert Lawler, a captain in the Stamford fire department, she was 29.

"For a woman getting married in 1950, 29 was like being 60," Pavia said.

But it meant Hedwig had time to save more money. In the spring of 1950, she took a train to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and picked out the most beautiful wedding dress she found.

"She paid $500 for it, which was a lot of money at the time," Pavia said.

In October 1950, Hedwig was a princess for a day.

Pavia and her younger sister grew up hearing about the dress.

"My mother had it preserved professionally and she kept it in the attic. We couldn't undo it; it was sealed, so we would poke at it. And we would look at her wedding album all the time," she said. "I always knew I was going to wear it. It was just really graceful and elegant. It didn't seem outdated to me."

Preparing for her wedding in 1978, Pavia took the dress to a bridal shop in Greenwich to replace the lace.

"The people at the shop took a picture of it and contacted Saks Fifth Avenue, which still had it in their archives. They looked up the lace to see where in France it came from, and I ordered it at $250 a yard."

Two years later, in 1980, her younger sister, Judi Hasak, wore it for her wedding.

So it should be no surprise that the sisters snapped photos of their wedding portraits on their cell phones and are showing them to people wherever they go.

"My sister and I both had long hair in our wedding photos, just like Kate Middleton, so when people see them they say, `Wait, were you in England?' That's how much alike the two dresses look," Pavia said.

Here's where the woman part of the story ends and the man part begins.

The excitement over the similarity between the family wedding gown and the royal wedding gown is lost on Pavia's husband, Tony Pavia, principal of New Canaan High School.

First, he has trouble with the global hoopla over the nuptials of the British royals.

"Early Friday morning I go into school and all these teachers are there having a party. I'm the only male," Tony Pavia said. "They are setting up goodies, they have a huge banner with the princess on it, they have British flags all over, they're all wearing tiaras. I thought, OK, this is like the female Super Bowl.

"Then one of the teachers said to me, `Hey, Tony, in England they have the day off for this. Why can't we get the day off?' I said, `Have you ever heard of the Declaration of Independence? How about George Washington?' "

Second, he has trouble with the wedding-dress phenomenon.

"My wife and my sister-in-law are showing the picture to everybody on the street. I just don't get it. How unique can a dress be?" he said. "I'm worried about a million people saying, `My mother had that dress, too.' I mean, how do you tell? I heard that Kate Middleton spent months and months researching to find the dress she wanted. I could have given it to her in five minutes."

Robin Pavia said that Tony, younger brother of Mayor Michael Pavia, told her all he remembers about her dress is that it was white.

"I said, `Well it wasn't. It was off-white. So you remember nothing,' " she said. "In the meantime, I've never seen such a perfect match to something that's 61 years old."

That's a concern, Tony said.

"Suppose it comes out that Kate Middleton somehow found a picture of my mother-in-law and stole the dress from her?" he said. "This story could bring down the whole royal family."

Angela Carella can be reached at 203-964-2296 or angela.carella@scni.com.