Let's face it — being a bridesmaid can be a bitch. The awful dresses, the endless showers, the obligation to write the perfect, funny but teary-eyed toast — not to mention the cost. Until recently, though, a girlfriend just bucked up and did it, because that's what bridesmaids — and friends — do.
Unless they don't. A new generation of bridesmaids — let's call them bridesmaidzillas — is in revolt. One such girl grabbed a terrified father of the bride on the dance floor at an outdoor wedding on the North Shore of Massachusetts and started grinding with him. Another bridesmaid gone bad, in the middle of toasts at a barbecue-themed rehearsal dinner in Austin, Texas, called her cable company and got into a shouting match over the bill. One attention-seeking bridesmaid had a tummy tuck and boob job just before a wedding in Pasadena, California, and showed up with bandages and scars, and another clingy BFF used her toast to dis the groom. There was the artistic attendant at a California wine-country wedding who scribbled on the couple's engagement portraits with a Sharpie, and three more at a swanky Boston hotel who got so trashed at the reception, they cut off the bottom third of their $300 gowns. One girl, a pissed-off sister of the groom at a seaside Rhode Island wedding, screamed at her brother to back out of the marriage — 10 minutes before the ceremony and in front of the bride-to-be.
But nothing beats the coup Kim's bridesmaids pulled over Labor Day 2009 at a posh Virginia resort. Her attendants were her best friends from law school: They'd lived together, studied for the bar together, and one of them even helped Kim's fiancé choose her round-cut diamond. But when Kim, 28, asked them to be her bridesmaids, the relationship started to sour. After she booked the resort, the two girls — East Coast lawyers in their late 20s — panned the spot as remote and inconvenient. They pushed the planning of the bachelorette party onto Kim's younger sister, the maid of honor, then complained about the cost. When the group chose Palm Beach for the party, the girls bailed, saying they couldn't afford it, even though they had high-paying jobs. They skipped the bridal shower and criticized the green, floor-length Lela Rose gowns Kim loved, lobbying so hard for dresses by a different designer that Kim chipped in for the Lela Rose ones herself.
By the time the wedding rolled around, Kim wasn't speaking much to either one. Still, what happened next was shocking. As the girls checked in to the hotel, she rushed to meet them. They barely acknowledged her, hugging her sister instead. Kim rushed out of the lobby in tears. Her mom came to the rescue — she tracked down the girls in their hotel room, and after a good talking-to, told them they could leave if they liked. Amazingly, they did. The next morning, the day before the wedding, they checked out, leaving their unopened, unaltered dresses on the floor. They charged their room balance, including room service and pay-per-view movies, to the wedding account. When Kim got back from her Bora-Bora honeymoon, she got an e-mail invoice from one of them for $500 for the dress and travel expenses. The final insult? She'd been unfriended on Facebook.
The bridesmaidzilla, a lethal mix of frenemy and Mean Girl wrapped in a sash, is popping up at weddings across the country, leaving a trail of bulldozed brides and apoplectic planners. It used to be crazy-eyed brides, caricatured in movies, sitcoms, and on reality TV, who scared everyone silly. Now bridesmaids, the faithful friends who've been paying, planning, and keeping their mouths shut since the dawn of taffeta, are digging in their dyed-to-match heels and making a fuss.
NEXT PAGE: -->
"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."