Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, JUN 20, 2005
A snafu on bridesmaids dresses resulted in a refund to the bride — but she never passed it on to the bridesmaids and the groomsmen.
A little over a month ago, I was one of eight bridesmaids in my brother’s wedding. The bridesmaids’ dresses kept not arriving at the new dates the store kept giving us, until it was three days before the wedding and the store (I’ll call it Acme Bridal) admitted there was no way the gowns could get there in time. The bride and I spent a good eight hours scouring every other clothing store within a 30-mile radius, and I finally found one that could get us all dresses in the right colors, and still do some alterations in time. The bridesmaids got their dresses, the vows were exchanged, the wedding bouquet was thrown, the couple rode off into the sunset, everything was a happy ending … or so it seemed, and still seems, to everyone but me.
In a reasonable effort to make up for their extreme screw-up, Acme Bridal refunded the bridesmaids’ money for the AWOL dresses, and then the bridesmaids used that refund to pay for the new dresses. A few days after the wedding, I got a phone call from Acme Bridal, just offering another apology and best wishes, and hoping that their compensation was adequate and no hard feelings. Through that conversation I learned that not only had the store refunded the original bridesmaid dress money, they had refunded the price of the tuxedoes for the eight groomsmen (which were also bought through Acme Bridal, and had arrived on time with no problems) and given the bride a check to pay for the cumulative cost of the new dresses we found at their competitors. So, they not only refunded the bridesmaids’ money, and refunded the men’s money, but paid for the new dresses, all before the wedding even took place.
OK, I figured, “Linda” the bride had a lot on her mind at the time, she just forgot to distribute the check to the bridesmaids. My boyfriend was one of the groomsmen, and I know for a fact that he never received compensation for his tux, though I haven’t told him about all the vanished funds. I haven’t told anyone about them, including the other bridesmaids or the groomsmen, because I’m not sure what to do (that’s where you come in, I hope).
A few days after the Acme Bridal phone call, I asked my brother about it (they didn’t take a honeymoon after the wedding). He got very defensive and said that money was Linda’s monetary compensation for all the headaches this store caused her, and that none of the bridesmaids deserved the money (it’s $165 each) because none of them helped find new dresses. That got me all riled up because, like I said, I was running around, cellphone in hand, spending two tanks of gasoline and talking to more store owners than I can remember in trying to help Linda. When I reminded my brother “Ryan” of that fact, he admitted I had been very helpful. But he said they were still paying off the wedding and they needed that money, and he would talk to Linda about it, but the fact of it was none of the groomsmen or the bridesmaids needed the money as badly as they did.
I was flabbergasted, to say the least. First, it doesn’t matter who needs it more — that money came from a source, it should go back to that same source. Let alone that by keeping this a secret, my brother and sister-in-law are doing what’s tantamount (in my opinion) to stealing from people who are their family and best friends! I brought it up with Ryan once more a few days later (despite having been in the wedding, Linda and I aren’t close. I was there as the groom’s sister more than as a friend), and was chided for being so selfish and basically told to drop it.
Like I said before, I haven’t told anyone else, in my family or otherwise, about the non-compensated compensation. I don’t want to turn this into some huge scandal over money, especially right after a wedding. Acme Bridal paid for the costs of the new dresses and tuxes and made the check out to Linda — but is it her right to keep it? I need an unbiased opinion on that, and on where I should go from here.
Dear Bitter Bridesmaid,
It seems reasonable that the bride should pass the money on to the people who paid for the dresses and the tuxes. I think that would be the right thing to do. I don’t think very highly of the idea expressed by the groom that the wedding was expensive and they need the money more, so they’re keeping it. The money was intended, presumably, to be passed on to all the parties who were inconvenienced. It wasn’t intended to enrich the bride or compensate her for wedding costs in general. It was a goodwill gesture made by a business intended partly, no doubt, to protect the firm’s reputation and help it secure future business. Ideally the store would have reimbursed each buyer individually, but for one reason or another that didn’t happen. So if the store were now to contact each person in a further gesture of “goodwill,” telling them why the refund was made and asking for their future business, that would make sense. It would also put the bride in hot water. Perhaps the store thought it was more discreet to simply send the money to the bride and stay out of whatever squabbles may result.
A little more detail on the transaction would be helpful in saying exactly what should be done, but it’s not necessary to see what’s basically right and wrong here. It’s pretty clear that the bride should distribute the money. Instead, the bride and your brother seem to be doing something small-minded and selfish. Assuming the eight tuxes cost roughly what the dresses cost, we’re talking about substantial money — over $2,600. While the bride may have no strict legal obligation to pass the money on, the legal concept of “conversion” does spring to mind; she’s taking money meant for one purpose and converting it to another. I suggest you talk to an attorney, not so much because you have a legal cause of action but because your legal position will inform your ethical and moral position. A legal perspective can bring clarity to highly emotional issues. The more aspects of the situation you understand, the better you can deal with it.
There’s one other thing I would do. I would talk to the store owner again. It’s the store owner’s money. If the store owner wanted to just make a gift to the bride and groom, then fine. But if the store owner wanted that money to go to the people who purchased clothes and were inconvenienced, then I think the store owner has a right to know that the money hasn’t gotten to its intended recipients. And there are certainly things the store owner can choose to do. Maybe an owner would not want to take it further, but I do think a conversation is in order.
Ultimately it’s up to you if you want to fight about it or put it behind you. So far, I must say, you’ve shown admirable restraint. One word of this could ignite a wildfire of outrage among the other members of the wedding party. To your credit, in spite of your personal feeling of being wronged, you haven’t bad-mouthed the bride. I think you’re wise not to. In deciding what to do, it might also help to take a step back and contemplate why you participated in the wedding in the first place. You wanted to support them in their commitment, right? You wanted to step up and do your part. You wanted to take actions that would cement long-term bonds with your brother’s new family. So you did all that. You did a great job. You performed admirably. But was your heart in it? Or was it a cynical gesture? I’m not saying your attitude is relevant to the bride’s behavior. But it seems useful to review your motives for participating in the wedding, because if you take action it could have long-term implications for your relationship with your brother and his new family.
So if I were you … what would I do? I would talk to the store owner and talk to a lawyer. See what they say. If we’re correct in assuming there’s no legal obligation on the part of the bride, and the store owner doesn’t care what happens to the money, then it’s a question of personal ethics. In that regard I think principle is on your side, so I would make the case one more time to your brother, and perhaps to the bride herself if she will hear you out. Stress that news of this will probably leak out eventually. It always does. When that happens, reputations and relationships can be severely damaged. But if they still refuse to distribute the money, it may be more practical, and perhaps wiser, to let the matter drop.