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May 7, 2010

Attack of the Bridesmaidzillas

ferrol billowitch with bridal party

Ferrol Billowitch with the bridesmaids who made the cut.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ferrol Billowitch

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"In the past five years, we've seen bridesmaid behavior that is considerably angrier. And they're more comfortable expressing it," says Sharon Naylor, the author of 30 wedding books, including 2005's The Bridesmaid Handbook. Wedding sites like theknot.com overflow with threads with titles like "Trouble with a Mean Bridesmaid." Wedding reality shows like TLC's Say Yes to the Dress spotlight bridesmaid blood feuds, with catty comments and tantrums. And Hollywood has homed in on the trend: On the heels of The Wedding Date, 27 Dresses, and Made of Honor, two bridesmaid-centric comedies, The Bachelorette Party, starring Jennifer Garner, and another, written by Kristen Wiig, are in the works.

So what turns bridesmaids — who are supposed to have the bride's back, not stab it — bad? Bridal parties are bigger and more intense than ever, says Naylor. "We're a global society. We stay in touch with more friends than we did even five years ago." Relatives of the groom who aren't close to the bride walk the aisle with buds from childhood, school, and work. Cliques meet; claws come out.

Resentment of the bride is another factor. A friend's jealousy of the big ring, the bigger party, or the cute groom can boil over, and bad behavior and passive-aggressive tactics pop up. Kim thinks jealousy contributed to her situation. "One of my bridesmaids was also engaged. She stopped speaking to her fiancé, and her parents pulled out of the planning at the same time everything was coming together for us." (The couple stayed together.)

Even innocent-seeming technology can make things worse. "E-mail has a lot to do with this," says Naylor. "It's easy to pop off an angry tweet, e-mail," or Facebook post about an annoying dress fitting, leading to public venting before the wedding even happens.

But, not surprisingly, cold hard cash is the biggest driver of bridal-party blues. Ferrol Billowitch, 26, from Pennsylvania, found that out the hard way when she discovered that one of her attendants had bullied Billowitch's own mom into paying for her $350 portion of the shower; the $1,750 cost was supposed to be split among the five bridesmaids. "I asked her if she had any intention of paying my mom back, and she said no," Billowitch says. She fired the bridesmaid on the spot.

On-the-job expenses really add up. Bridesmaids spent $9.6 billion in 2009 — about $1,000 per wedding — in the middle of the worst economy in decades, according to The Wedding Report, a Tucson, Arizona-based financial research firm that tracked bridesmaid bills for the first time in 2009.

And today, bridesmaids spend more than ever traveling to far-flung events, says Naylor. They're also easy targets for corporations. The New York Ritz-Carlton offers a bridal shower package, including cupcakes and spa treatments, for $299 a head. Net-a-porter.com lists a $1,875 Stella McCartney frock for bridesmaids. The gauntlet of parties, showers, luncheons, getaways, and treatments that are part of the deal with any high-end wedding has cleaned out many an attendant. Factor in the dozens of weddings some women are in, and, well, ouch.

In the end, Kim pulled off a fairy-tale finale. Calling girls from work who had been there for her through it all, she posed a bold question: Would they step into the bridesmaid breach?

"They hopped in the car at 4 a.m. and were there in time for spa appointments the day before," she says. The town rallied, too; the hair and makeup artist gave the new bridesmaids discounts, and the local tailor finished their dresses hours before the wedding. The newly minted bridesmaids even gave a sweet toast at the rehearsal dinner. "They were awesome," says Kim.

Tiffany Bennett, 22, a Tampa, Florida, makeup artist, went another way. Her wedding party ignored her invitation to look for dresses they liked, then complained about the one she chose. "I canned them all," says Bennett, who's planning her October "Marie Antoinette meets Alice in Wonderland" affair — solo. "Occasionally I hear about showers or bachelorette parties and think, Man, it would be nice to have bridesmaids. But then I think of all the drama. I don't regret the decision in the least."

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