At 7:20 a.m. on September 5, Jen Glantz woke up Ashley Bosquez with a kindly reminder that it was Ashley’s wedding day and they were in a time-crunch to primp. Jen was the first person to see Ashley that morning, she recalls, and the last person to send Ashley down the aisle. Jen stood with Ashley at the altar, presented her at the first look, orchestrated speeches, packed the car, and corralled groomsmen. Two months before, these women were strangers, until they met through a Craigslist ad that offered Jen’s services as a professional bridesmaid.
Ashley hired Jen after a falling-out with her original maid of honor. Fortunately for her, Jen had founded Bridesmaid for Hire just days earlier. The company gives stressed brides an assistant and takes grunt work away from the hassled bridesmaids; Jen's services range from virtual guidance to the intense “bridesmaid-by-my-side” option that Ashley had selected. That ran her about a thousand dollars, plus Jen’s travel from her Manhattan home, as well her hotel room.
In the run-up to the wedding, the pair spoke almost every night — from talking through speeches to quelling drama among guests. Jen says she kept a to-do list that was 90 items long. She and Ashley ceremoniously checked off the last items the night before the ceremony. Is this the first time in all of history that a to-do list with 90 items was completed? Probably.
Jen is the living version of a color-coded calendar. The supremely organized 26-year-old wears vibrant colors, flicks straight blonde hair, and smiles through peachy lipstick. She has a professional, prim demeanor and speaks in calming platitudes punctuated with supportive nods.
As modern weddings have increased in extravagance, so have the expectations of bridesmaids. The role demands time, money, energy, and travel — thereby including dozens of opportunities to mess up. Some brides imagine bridesmaids who aren’t so much friends in matching dresses as a fleet of uniformed subordinates. They expect services like party-planning and personal-assisting, which might as well be jobs in their own right. Jen is, arguably, responding in a reasonable, entrepreneurial way to these pressures.
“Bridezilla is an inspiration for the company,” Jen says, serious and empathetic. So-called bridezillas are only a stereotype “because no one is helping them with these things! They’re just making fun of them,” she explains. “If I were in their shoes, I would want someone to help me.” And while bridesmaid duties leave some participants grousing, Jen found that she thrived on them. Before she actually went pro, her friends had nicknamed her “professional bridesmaid.” In the past two years she has been in six weddings, not including the two she’s done as a hired hand.
The Craigslist ad in which she announced her business went semi-viral. Afterward, she called her brother, who works in business strategy in Miami: “We have a lot of work to do,” he said. It was Fourth of July weekend, and they built the website in 24 hours. They’re listed as co-founders and plan to split the profits fifty-fifty.
Right now, Jen still has a full-time job as a copywriter for a tech company, but in the four months since her ad appeared, she’s been booked for 20 weddings (often she ghosts for busy maids of honor who don’t have time to plan bachelorette parties or write enthusiastic emails). She says she's also seen a lot of potential on the employment side — in the form of over 500 job applications. So far she's hired one woman, has started a professional groomsman initiative, and hopes someday to have a network of professional bridesmaids.
Often, she has to remind potential clients that she’s not a wedding planner; she doesn’t choose vendors or centerpieces. She’s there for the personal things. Jen offers to be the intermediary for complaints about the bridesmaid dresses. She’s the receiver of rants, the giver of advice about how to cope with an impatient friend or an invasive sister-in-law. When Ashley foresaw a potentially dramatic situation at her bridal shower, Jen blocked out four hours in case she was needed for an emergency calm-down phone call. “She made me feel very prepared. She was on standby,” says Ashley. “She said: If you need me, go upstairs, call me, and we will go over everything again.” She’ll tell you what to do about people slow to RSVP; she’ll write your politely urgent group emails.
“You might notice brides end up losing a lot of friends after the wedding,” Jen says, “because being a bridesmaid causes a lot of stress on both ends.” She pauses. “It should be a lot of fun.” Should being the operative word. “You need someone to step in, to take control and filter, so bridesmaids aren’t running to the bride saying, I hate the dress, I’m not coming to this,” she says. “Bring it all to me. I’ll handle it.” As Ashley puts it: “I don’t want to make her the scapegoat, but I’d rather have her do it.”
Jen has knowledge. She has experience. She has a fanny pack. This is one of her favorite topics — she’s selling them as “survival kits” on her website. They include: bobby pins, safety pins, glue, Band-Aids, tissues, Q-tips, breath mints, phone chargers, extra mirrors, extension cords. “Every wedding I’ve been to, a bridesmaid has to get in a car, drive to CVS, and bring all the supplies no one thought of — like Advil. I was that person,” Jen says.
“A lot of my friends were asking me to be their bridesmaid and I was like: Do they really like me, or are they asking me because I know how to do it?” she recalls. And indeed, a certain anxiety seems to drive her to achieve as a friend. She mentions her shy childhood in Florida: “Popular girls would always make a point of leaving me out. In middle school, I told myself: If I ever made friends, if I ever got the chance to make good friends, I would never treat them like that.” She speaks about friendship like an achievement, a thing to be good and skilled at. She uses the word “successful.”
After college, Jen worked for her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, as an educational consultant, helping girls in leadership positions at their chapters, so perhaps it makes sense that she navigates all-female social settings with a professional attitude. “Anyone will tell you in your 20s: It’s impossible to become friends,” she says. “I walk up to girls in Forever 21 and pray that we can hang out after. It’s very difficult. This is originally one of the reasons I founded this, so I can build friendships with people all around the world.”
This sentiment is perhaps what makes her business confusing and controversial. Bridesmaids, according to conventional wisdom, should be the women closest to you in the world, intuitively selected and eternally supportive. Hiring someone to fulfill this role professionally seems pathetic. Jen adamantly denies that her service is friendship-for-sale, even if the desire for friendship does motivate her. She cut Ashley off from 2 a.m. phone calls during wedding prep, but they still texted and chatted and emailed all day, in an ongoing stream of attention and laughter and commiseration. They remain in fairly constant contact.
The arrangement suggests a shopworn romantic comedy plot: an obligatory social commitment — maybe a little awkward, maybe a little strange — that blossoms into true love. In this case, Jen hopes that each new client will result in actual friend-love.