It all began with a Craigslist advert from a woman so au fait with bridesmaid duties that she offered her wedding expertise to the general public, detailing services including being a taffeta-clad servant always ready to clutch “the 18 layers of your dress so that you can pee with ease” and making sure “bridesmaid #4 buys her dress on time and doesn't show up 3 hours late the day of the wedding or paint her nails lime green”.
But though it could have sounded like a sarcastic missive from someone bored with the trials and tribulations of regularly being someone's best woman, it turned out the advert struck a chord: Jen Glantz's Bridesmaid for Hire business has flourished since she posted the advert in June 2014, with wedding parties in America booking her up to a year in advance.
Forget chair covers, ice sculptures, chocolate fountains and fairy-light waterfalls, the ever-expanding wedding industry has something else to spend your money on: welcome to the world of professional bridesmaids.
It's easy to assume such a service means hiring friends – paying someone to put on a matching dress and turn up. But there's more to the job of a professional bridesmaid than ensuring there's nothing as recklessly wedding-ruining as lime green nails.
Glantz, 27, offers a range of bespoke packages from $199 to around the $2,000 mark (approximately £130 to £1,300), covering everything from occasional email support and speech-refining, one-to-one sessions and on-the-day timetables, to yes, actually walking down the aisle and mingling with guests.
“We’re there to help the bride, and her bridesmaids, with any stage of the wedding adventure,” she says.
Which prompts the question: what's the difference between Glantz and a wedding planner?
According to the website, quite a lot.
“Wedding planners have quite the job of their own, focusing on preparing for the big day and making sure the vendors arrive on time and the venue is set up exactly as the bride imagined,” says Glantz. “I’m there to work specifically with the bride and her needs – whether it’s shopping for a wedding dress, organizing RSVPs, coordinating the bridal shower or bachelorette party, helping with a registry for gifts, etc.
“Plus, if I’m there on the big day, my number one goal is to make sure the bride and her wedding party are stress free – and that their to-do list becomes my own personal responsibility.”
It's something that buys into the idea (something possibly more ingrained across the pond) that a bridesmaid is not just a best friend to stand by your side and enjoy the day with you in a colour-coordinated outfit, but a PA expected to go way beyond merely organising the hen do.
The company describes a professional bridesmaid as personal assistant, on-call therapist, social director, the ultimate peacekeeper. And if first-timers are overwhelmed by what being a bridesmaid involves, she also offers packages coaching them through their duties.
However, while hopefully it's not a chore for close friends to be involved in some aspects, such as drinking too much Champagne while finding the dress, it's fair to say the ‘Yay wedding!’ excitement does wear off somewhat in the 12th shoe shop.
And that's the kind of minor stress Glantz aims to eliminate.
“By hiring a Professional Bridesmaid, you can still honor your friends and family by having them be your bridesmaids, but without the burden or the ‘dirty work’,” she explains in the FAQ. “The Professional Bridesmaid does all the heavy lifting – so you and your girls can focus on the fun!”
The success of the new business shows there's a market for this particular type of planner-slash-friend: Glantz told Mail Online she's worked on more than 30 weddings in the past year, and had just had two in one weekend, 600 miles apart.
“[One of the brides] hired us because she did not have a lot of close friends, which at first might seem strange to anyone else, but I understand that,” she told the website. “She was looking for a team of women, who love people and weddings, to keep her confident and energized before the wedding [and] on the day of.”
While some hire her because they don't have that circle of close friends, others want someone to be there through every back and forth of decision-making without worrying they're testing their friendships by asking for the thousandth time which lipstick looks better.
It's hard not to dismiss this as a service providing ‘perfect’ robot bridesmaids catering to a bridezilla caricature, but there's obviously some appeal to a pal-not-really who can provide a more objective viewpoint (one you're also perhaps more likely to listen to than when it comes from a family member) and who you won't feel bad asking to sort all the niggly bits.
Given the gushing testimonials on her website, plenty of people agree.
Is it only a matter of time before professional best men and women become as par for the course as white cakes and confetti?