The way Mary Gamberdella remembers it, the argument was inevitable. The bride and her mother were getting along too well -- giggling and agreeing on everything from sending out ecru-colored invitations to serving oysters on the half shell.
But then during a final dress fitting, the mother announced that she hated her daughter's hair. You ARE getting a perm before the wedding, she declared.
The bride scowled. Angry words flew. And a fairy-tale time turned into a scene from a Bette Davis-Joan Crawford movie.
"Finally, I said, 'Now girls, let's not fight,' " recalls Ms. Gamberdella, owner of Gamberdella's bridal salon in Towson.
Was she shocked? Appalled? Dismayed?
Try unfazed. The prewedding war of words between mothers and daughters is, it seems, as common as white lace on a bridal gown.
"One minute they're hugging and the next they're fighting," she says. "It's just emotion."
In reality though, it's more than emotion. The expense, stress and logistics of entertaining a large crowd can spell disaster for its chief organizers -- most often the bride and her mother. That's in part why nearly every duo who have survived the blessed event have a wedding war story to tell, whether it's over inviting Aunt Matilda or making "Moon River" the first song.
"Part of the problem is that [weddings] kick up all kind of images of the ideal: the ideal ceremony, the ideal reception, the ideal relationship," says Betsy Zaborowski, a Baltimore psychologist who specializes in women's issues.
Ms. Gamberdella has seen mothers and daughters squabble over everything from necklines ("Our girls like the open necklines; the mothers worry about them being too bare") to the cost of dresses. ("Mothers go back to what they paid and say things like, 'When I got married, my dress cost $250.' ")
But that's nothing compared to what local wedding photographer June Chaplin has witnessed. "I've come into rooms where mothers and daughters have been hissing at each other like snakes," she says.
During one recent affair, the mother of the bride decided to have her hair done the day of the wedding. So what if it conflicted with the photo session and nearly delayed the ceremony? It was only later in the evening that Ms. Chaplin discovered what was behind it all.
"The mother had a face lift and was mad no one noticed," she says.
Similarly, custom dress designer Susan Khalje has learned how weddings can become emotional wrestling matches for mothers and daughters.
"A wedding is such a breeding ground for weird family tensions. All sorts of strange unresolved issues can come out," she says.
The Glen Arm designer has watched mothers look at their daughters in wedding gowns and exclaim: "Elizabeth really isn't a pretty girl. I'm surprised how beautiful she looks in that dress."
And she's listened as tempers have flared over something as simple as the silhouette of a gown. "During one wedding, things got very testy. The parents were ganging up against the bride. She wanted a certain style of sleeve, but they didn't. On the wedding day, she was in tears," she says.
Yet Ms. Khalje believes these criticisms often hint at larger family disagreements. "Their anger was being directed at the dress, but there were bigger issues at hand. . . . Didn't they want their little girl to marry this guy? Or was the father fed up with paying for things?" she recalls thinking.
Given such scenarios, Agatha Luca and Rosanna Pillari consider themselves lucky.
When Ms. Pillari got married two years ago, she asked her mother, Ms. Luca, to be her matron of honor.
"My true best friend is my mom," explains Ms. Pillari, 28, who lives in Reisterstown. "She's always been understanding and supportive, even when she didn't agree with me."
When she asked her mother, however, she wasn't entirely prepared for the response.
"She cried, then she said, 'I'm too old.' I told her she was the only person who could be my maid of honor. She was very touched BTC and very nervous about the whole thing."
But despite their intimate relationship, even they disagreed over one aspect of the wedding: whose names should appear on the 100-person guest list.
While Ms. Luca would have preferred to invite more relatives, she acquiesced to her daughter's choices, in part because of a similar experience she had as a bride 31 years before.
"When I got married, my mother invited all these people I didn't know. I couldn't invite friends from work. I remember thinking, 'I'll never do this to my children.' So I told her, 'This is your wedding; it's not my wedding. I had my wedding. Whatever you want to do, you do,' " says Ms. Luca, 52, who lives in Perry Hall.
Age can often play a major factor in the tensions brides and mothers experience. Women who wed in their late 20s and 30s today usually have achieved a degree of financial and personal independence. Many have worked through typical parent-child dilemmas and come to at least an uneasy truce with their mothers.