If you're going to spray red paint on a $4,000-plus wedding dress and toss it in a trash bin, you might want to do it unwitnessed in the dark of night.

Priscilla of Boston, a high-end bridal boutique in Edina that went out of business last week, found that out the hard way as cellphone video of an employee throwing out several expensive dresses made the rounds online and on TV, sparking public dismay at the waste -- and at the sight of shoppers Dumpster-diving for spoils.

Bessie Giannakakis, who owns the nearby Bessie's Boutique, said she saw two men spray-painting red X's on the dresses, hung over the side of a big blue trash bin.

Minneapolis resident Martha Allen, who saw more than a dozen dresses being dumped, said that within half an hour, "people were crawling in there, pulling them out and even pulling them apart, because they had a lot of bling on them. One woman pulled out a label and said, 'My God, it's a Vera Wang.'"

David's Bridal, owner of the 19 Priscilla's stores nationwide that closed Dec. 30, announced the decision in August.

Pam Philipp, who runs Operation Glass Slipper, a Mendota Heights nonprofit that donates prom dresses to low-income girls and sells donated bridal gowns at low cost to raise money for their shoes and accessories, was incensed.

"It makes me so mad," she said. "They could have recycled them, they could have donated them. What makes me even madder is that I asked about that over a month ago when I found out they were closing and got no response."

Philipp said she contacted David's Bridal, which owned the Priscilla stores, at the suggestion of employees with whom she spoke at the 50th & France shop, and got no response.

"It's corporate irresponsibility," she said. "It's just an ugly thing to do. They could have cut the tags off."

Priscilla of Boston issued a statement to KARE-TV and KMSP-TV noting that the company has often donated dresses to charity, and that it was under contractual obligation with suppliers to destroy unsold merchandise. This practice is common among luxury retailers that want to thwart the possibility of resale, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with the market-research firm the NPD Group.

"Many retailers who buy high-end designer product have an agreement they won't resell to a secondary market," he said. "Sometimes even donated goods end up online or in thrift stores, and that destroys the value of the label, of the full-price market."

Giannakakis doesn't see it that way. "As a designer, I wouldn't want to see my dress being spray-painted against the side of a Dumpster," she said. "And as a human being, donate it to someone who can use it, like a military wife. Maybe with the economy they should start looking at new ways of doing things."

Allen said she thinks the policy "makes sense, because people will take advantage, eBay is alive and well, but in this case they could have given them to women who needed them."

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046