Monday, December 8, 2014

"I'll Drink to That: A life in style, with a twist" by Betty Halbreich (with Rebecca Paley)

   Can retail therapy really save your life? For Betty Halbreich it did. She went from falling apart after the break-up of her marriage, followed by an extended stay in a psych ward, to falling into the perfect life-saving career as a personal shopper for customers of Bergdorf Goodman, the crème de la crème of New York City department stores. And Halbreich is still doing it forty years later, dressing clients and running Bergdorf's Solutions department, at age 86!
   What a fascinating life Miss Betty has lived, which she throws wide open like double closet doors in the new memoir: I'll Drink to That: A life in style, with a twist.  In her distinctively classy but candid style, Halbreich shares her journey from an insular upbringing as an only child in Chicago, fairytale-like with servants and custom-made clothes, to her whirlwind romance and marriage to Sonny Halbreich, a dabbler in real estate and fashion whose real passion, Miss Betty finds out too late, is booze, affairs, and living the high life. To cope with her Park Avenue loneliness and lack of purpose, Halbreich turns to shopping with the ladies-who-lunch. And she was good at it, it came easy for her, and she became the go-to gal for help in "looking put together" within her crowd. When Edna Woolman Chase, the legendary Editor-in-Chief for Vogue, said, "Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess," she could have been speaking directly about Betty Halbreich.

   While at times I felt sad for Miss Betty's struggles with confidence, feeling lost within her own life, and having to deal with Sonny's bad-boy behavior until she finally gave him the boot -- he was quite an ass! -- seeing her life unfold on paper was like watching a masterpiece being painted, with each event and experience, each job and connection, layering on the canvas of her journey to culminate in a very rare phenomenon: finding exactly what you are meant to do, making a good living at it, and actually loving doing it. Going way beyond personal shopping, Miss Betty has become a mentor, confidante, social worker, and lay counselor to her wide variety of clients AND SHE LOVES IT. Maybe not all day -- some of her clients sound so insanely demanding they should be banned from Bergdorf's, but Miss Betty tolerates them with wit and tough love -- but every day. After forty years! I am so jealous! I have been looking for a "calling" like this my entire life. But I've got a while left before I hit 86, so maybe there's hope for me.
   Love this book! And I adore Miss Betty! She tells (and sells) the truth straight up, but makes it palatable with a twist of humor. I gobbled up all the delicious details of Big Apple life through the decades like a pie straight out of the oven, then the whip cream on top was the secret tidbits about the fashion and costume designers she connected with through her Solutions department. And anyone who's read any of my writing can guess that I nearly went out of my mind when Miss Betty wrote about helping Pat Field dress the Sex and the City ladies -- my bestest gal pals for six seasons! -- and her many encounters personal shopping with Joan Rivers! I am a "Joan Ranger" for life and am still mourning the recent loss of my Fashion Police guru.
   Just like Fashion Police and Sex and the City, I never wanted I'll Drink to That to end, but sadly it did. Now I'll just have to read Miss Betty's other book, Secrets of a Fashion Therapist, and hope she writes another very soon. 
   (Kudos to Rebecca Paley for co-writing this memoir! I'll be looking for more of her work as well.)


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