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Start-ups hack the 'industrial wedding complex' with special hashtags and bridesmaids for hire

Jen Glantz steams a wedding dress for a bride.
Source: Bridesmaid for Hire
Jen Glantz steams a wedding dress for a bride.

From cakes and dresses to expensive catered receptions, it's not surprising that wedding costs can add up quickly.

Last year, couples spent an average of $35,329 on their wedding, according to a recent survey by The Knot of over 13,000 brides and grooms who got hitched last year. With all the demands modern weddings can entail, some couples are finding room in their budgets to pay upstarts that cater to niches.

One such company, Bridesmaid for Hire, bills its planning services as "professional bridesmaids." It specializes in offbeat requests, including even renting out a bridesmaid.

After being a bridesmaid in several weddings, founder Jen Glantz began to notice a pattern: Many brides lacked someone who could be there for them in a professional capacity — unlike wedding planners and vendors who put together the event itself. After being dubbed by her friends as a "professional bridesmaid," she posted an ad on Craigslist.

Within a couple of days, she received responses from women from around the world, and it put her on track to creating a business.

"My first bride who I decided to work with had a really interesting and common story — she had just fired her maid of honor," Glantz told CNBC recently. "A lot of people were breaking up with their friends over wedding requests, or over their friends hijacking the wedding too much."

Depending on a client's needs, Bridesmaid for Hire charges as little as $150 for coaching to up to $1,500 for a full service package. There's also a clandestine element to what the firm does. Sometimes guests know Glantz's official role, but other times it can be a closely held secret. In those instances, Glantz comes up with a backstory of how they met, or can even create an alias.

Glantz recently authored a book entitled "Always a Bridesmaid, (for Hire): Stories on Growing Up, Looking for Love, and Walking Down the Aisle for Complete Strangers." She told CNBC the pressure to replicate the seemingly picture-perfect atmosphere found on social media takes a toll on those walking down the aisle.

"The good is that there are so many apps nowadays that allow you to become a lot of your wedding vendors, and in turn save you a ton of money. Apps where you can become your own wedding planner, your own DJ," said Glantz.

However, social media postings, and the image of carefully curated perfection created by users, "puts even more on pressure-filled brides to get married, and to keep up with everybody else," Glantz said.

Wedding couple
Dustin Abbott | Getty Images

In a testament to how platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter have become integral to sharing private moments, more couples are opting for custom filters and concierges to live tweet the event.

Enter Marielle Wakim, a magazine editor by day and professional event hashtagger (yes, there is such a thing) by night.

In November, Wakim launched Happily Ever Hashtagged, which by her estimates has generated hundreds of custom-made, wedding-themed social media hashtags. The price of the service ranges from $40-$115 — and is not as easy as it might appear to the casual eye.

"It's deceptively difficult to come up with something that is not only more creative than what the average person might think of if they stopped and sat and thought about it," Wakim told CNBC. "It's difficult to come up with something that hasn't been used at all or one photo."

Her clientele fills out a brief survey choosing from a range of what they'd like their hashtags to reflect, running the gamut from funny, clever and sentimental to "anything, I'm desperate," she joked. According to Wakim, her customers are looking for something beyond a simple hashtag.

"I feel the way social media has impacted the wedding industrial complex, it invites guests to participate in the day in the way that they couldn't really interact with the bride and groom before," said Wakim.

While traditional wedding vendors still play an important role, the changing social culture and elevated expectations have opened up opportunities in the market to fill these newborn needs.

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