Reasonable Doubt: A lawyer’s take on wedding cost markups

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      It’s wedding season. And when it comes to paying for them, wedding costs are notorious for their high markups.

      After all, if the smallest wedding detail has to be perfect, there’s got to be a premium attached to it, right? Another way to look at it is that wedding costs are high because that is what people are willing to pay for their special day.

      An online debate has emerged on the ethics of these markups, thanks to an anonymous post inviting the public to weigh in. The post was by a makeup artist sharing a particular incident of hers and asking if she was wrong. Or, as she put it, “am I the ***hole”?

      Here’s what happened: she charges $500 to do a bride’s makeup and $150 for a “party” makeup. It’s the same service. Both require the same labour and products. The make-up artist was booked to provide party makeup for a client for $150. That person withheld the fact that she was actually getting married that day.

      During the session, the client lets slip that she’s getting married. The makeup artist gets upset that the client was not forthright. She finishes the job and then demands $500. In her view, she did makeup for a bride and so she was owed $500. She asked for $500. Naturally, drama ensued.

      So, who is in the wrong? Thousands of people weighed in. Many piled on the makeup artist for what they felt were unfair prices. Others sided with the makeup artist because they viewed the client as the dishonest one in this scenario.

      How might a lawyer look at this? What legal remedies are there?

      In this scenario, the client could look to consumer protection laws. In B.C., the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act offers protections for the general public. Consumers can bring a legal action for contraventions of that act and unfair business practices. Businesses can be fined or ordered to compensate consumers.

      Here, the client could make a case that she was a victim of unconscionable or deceptive practices, especially if the makeup artist was misleading about the bridal makeup service (e.g., saying it was better than the party makeup service). But if the makeup artist was upfront with the client that the $150 and $500 services were the same, the client would have difficulty with her claim. It would also be challenging if the makeup artist’s pricing was consistent with others in the industry.

      The client could also try to stick to the deal: the agreed-upon price of $150. There was a contract for services, even if it wasn’t put down in writing, and the payment was set at $150. The client could argue that services were contracted for and then given, so all that was owed was the agreed-upon price. The contract is for $150, not $500. That would put the ball in the makeup artist’s court.

      From the makeup artist’s perspective, the question is whether she is entitled to the $500. The contract didn’t provide for that amount—but this was only because the client withheld the fact that she was a bride (or even lied about it). Now we enter the realm of fraudulent misrepresentation.

      Let’s assume the client, to avoid paying more, knowingly withheld that the makeup was for her wedding. Arguably, there was a fraudulent misrepresentation that was then relied on by the makeup artist to enter into the $150 contract. On that basis, the makeup artist could have a claim for the remaining $350. The argument would be that she should have made $500 if the client was transparent about her wedding.

      Before we can end the discussion, there’s just one more thing. The makeup artist found out about the wedding in the middle of her session. Yet she decided to continue on. That decision carried legal importance. Once she learned of the misrepresentation, she could have considered walking away. Arguably, the misrepresentation was important enough that the contract could be void. Instead, she decided to continue with the job. By doing so, she chose to stick with the existing contract for $150. In law, that’s called affirming the contract. This would likely severely weaken any fraudulent-misrepresentation claim.

      Understandably, the makeup artist isn’t the most sympathetic person here. She may have been duped by her client but she didn’t go out of pocket. After all, she didn’t use more expensive product or spend more time or skill for a bridal makeup job. All she lost was the potential for more profit.

      However, the law places importance on fair and honest bargaining between contractual parties. So in that sense, the person in the wrong (the so-called ***hole) would be the client (assuming the makeup artist was transparent about her pricing at the outset).

      But that doesn’t mean the makeup artist gets anything more, since she affirmed the contract. Here, one person was wrong, but that doesn’t automatically justify a legal remedy.

      The author’s opinions of this case are not based on any firsthand knowledge or from any personal involvement. Also, a word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or consult a lawyer.