Seem Stressed or Seamstress?

Seem Stressed or Seamstress?

from by Rabbi Yosef  Y. Ettlinger

Seem Stressed or Seamstress?

Aviva purchased a dress for $50.00 which needed alterations. She took it to Mrs. Adler the local seamstress. Mrs. Adler altered the dress appropriately and Aviva wore it twice thereafter.

Subsequently, Aviva realized that she needed the dress to be let out by the seams. She purchased material for $14.00 and returned to Mrs. Adler one Tuesday.

Aviva explained to her that she needed the dress on Thursday of that week, as she wanted to wear it for an occasion out of town on Sunday night (her engagement party). Aviva described to her exactly what she wanted done to the dress and how she wanted it to look. She asked her not to add any flares but to make sure that the dress was straight. The two agreed on a price ($85.00) and Mrs. Adler gave her word that although it would be a difficult task, she would have it ready for Thursday.

Aviva called Mrs. Adler on Thursday afternoon to see if it was a good time to pick up the dress. Mrs. Adler responded that quite frankly it would be an unfruitful excursion on Aviva’s part as she had not started working on it.

Aviva was outraged! She reminded Mrs. Adler that they agreed that she would have it ready for her by Thursday because she needed it for an event…

Mrs. Adler apologized but reassured Aviva that she can have it ready for Sunday noon, and that she should stop by on Friday to try on the dress.

Aviva came in on Friday intending to try on the dress.

Horrified was an understatement!

The seamstress had cut the dress to add the material, but she had not followed Aviva’s directives! She added three flares instead of making it straight. And the hem…it was atrocious!

To make things better, Mrs. Adler was not in. Her worker was there in her stead. Aviva told her worker that the repair was not what she asked for and that she would never wear the dress like this. “Something has to be done.” Aviva pinched the excess material and told her “I want this out!” The worker shook her head and responded that she will try her best to fix what she can and that Aviva should come back on Sunday morning.

Aviva returned to Mrs. Adler with her Mom on Sunday morning to try on the dress. It was still far from Aviva’s liking. It was not straight, and it looked like patch work…but nothing more could be done..

Aviva was minus the material she bought and minus the dress- “It is absolutely not wearable like this”, complained Aviva and her Mom.

Mrs. Adler told Aviva that the dress looked beautiful on her, handed Aviva the altered dress and told her that she would have to charge her an additional thirty dollars because she had to pay her worker extra for staying longer and working on the dress.

“What audacity!” Aviva adamantly refused to pay her an extra thirty and even wondered whether she should pay her at all.


She set forth four arguments.

1) They agreed upon an $85 cost in the beginning,

2) The worker only put in extra work because things were not done right the first time,

3) The style of the alterations were not what Aviva had requested and

4) Mrs. Adler did not have the dress ready on Thursday as originally promised. 


1) Was Aviva obligated to pay her the $85 for the work that was done, even though it was not what we agreed she would do, and it was not ready in time?

2) Is Mrs. Adler responsible to pay Aviva back for the material that she bought to add to the dress? ($14.00)

3) Is Mrs. Adler responsible to pay for part of the cost of the dress since she rendered it not wearable anymore? 

What is the Law?

The Answer


As Mrs. Adler ruined the dress, Aviva is absolved from paying the initial $85 as well as the additional thirty. Mrs. Adler must pay for the material and the value of the used dress.


Detailed Explanation


We may divide this episode into two different phases. 1) from Tuesday till Friday 2) from Friday till Sunday.


Phase 1: Tuesday till Friday: $85, $14, Dress Value

Aviva requested the dress repaired without flares and that the job should be completed by Thursday.  Mrs. Adler failed on two accounts. She did not complete the job at the prescribed time and ruined the dress by adding flares instead of making the dress straight.


A service provider who is tardy is guilty of causing anguish to his/her customer.  Nevertheless, while tardiness gives the customer a right to have hard feelings against the service provider, tardiness alone does not warrant  withholding payment, so long as the service remains beneficial. Generally, a dress retains the same value whether or not it was ready at the prescribed time. (Parenthetically, there comes a point in time when tardiness is above and beyond the norm that the customer may rescind on the transaction.)


However, payment may be withheld when the service provider ruins the merchandise.  A used dress is hardly worth anything to anyone other than to the initial owner.  If the dress is not to the owner’s liking anymore, it becomes virtually valueless. Thus, Mrs. Adler ruined the dress.  As such, Aviva would be absolved from paying for the addition of the flares.


Similarly, as Mrs. Adler ruined the dress, she is required to compensate Aviva for the material as well as for the value of such a dress which had already been worn twice beforehand.


Phase 2: Friday till Sunday: Additional work

If on Friday, Aviva would have agreed that if they fix it up she would accept it, even though it was already obvious that they couldn’t make it 100% as she was hoping for, (it already had flares and it was not going to become 100% straight anymore) and they claim that they did make it acceptable then there is room for discussion, and the other side’s story has to be heard also.


However, Aviva was quite clear what she wanted. She wanted it straight. If it was impossible to do, the seamstress should have been upfront with her. An attempt to make it “acceptable” would not warrant payment for an unsolicited job from which the customer has no benefit. Thus, Aviva is absolved from paying for the additional service rendered.


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