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I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist



A classic tale of personal transformation amid a stunning backdrop of old world glamour and current high style, Betty Halbreich moves from a trapped woman to a ferociously independent icon. 

Eighty-six-year-old Betty Halbreich is a true original. A tough broad who could have stepped straight out of Stephen Sondheim’s repertoire, she has spent nearly forty years as the legendary personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, where she works with socialites, stars, and ordinary women off the street. She has helped many find their true selves through clothes, frank advice, and her own brand of wisdom. She is trusted by the most discriminating persons—including Hollywood’s top stylists—to tell them what looks best. But Halbreich’s personal transformation from a cosseted young girl to a fearless truth teller is the greatest makeover of her career.

A Chicago native, Halbreich moved to Manhattan at twenty after marrying the dashing Sonny Halbreich, a true character right out of Damon Runyon who liked the nightlife of New York in the fifties. On the surface, they were a great match, but looks can be deceiving; an unfaithful Sonny was emotionally distant while Halbreich became increasingly anguished. After two decades, the fraying marriage finally came undone. Bereft without Sonny and her identity as his wife, she attempted suicide.

After she began the frightening process of reclaiming herself and started therapy, Halbreich was offered a lifeline in the form of a job at the legendary luxury store Bergdorf Goodman. Soon, she was asked to run the store’s first personal shopping service. It was a perfect fit. Meticulous, impeccable, hardworking, elegant, and—most of all—delightfully funny, Halbreich has never been afraid to tell it to her clients straight. She won’t sell something just to sell it. If an outfit or shoe or purse is too expensive, she’ll dissuade you from buying it. As Halbreich says, “There are two things nobody wants to face: their closet and their mirror.” She helps women do both, every day.

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Praise

“Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls, is now developing a series inspired by Ms. Halbreich’s life. The impatient, however, can satisfy their curiosity more immediately with I’ll Drink to That, the long-anticipated memoir in which Ms. Halbreich chronicles her life in the dressing room and beyond.” The Wall Street Journal

“Charming… An inspirational feminist tale.” People Magazine

“Tart, funny.” Entertainment Weekly

“Sartorial style becomes a philosophy of life in this spirited memoir…Halbreich comes across as sage and gracious as she narrates a life full of incident, taking us inside the fashion industry and one of its great institutions.” —Publishers Weekly

“Every woman has a piece of clothing that she can’t live without, because in it, she feels most like herself. Betty’s memoir has that effect on a reader. Authentic style is a form of self-knowledge. And in that respect, I’ll Drink To That is like Betty’s famous three-way mirror. She sizes up her own life fearlessly, and in the process, not only helps you to diagnose your own flaws, but to embrace your own beauty.” —Judith Thurman, author of National Book Award-winning Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller and Los Angeles Times Book Award-winning Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

“Betty was born to sail through people’s lives telling them what to wear (and even what to do). The other day I overheard her chatting with a client, ‘Oh, she’s been my friend for thirty-five years, and she’s only thirty.’ Lines like that are good enough for George Cukor. The whole scanrio is. Maybe she’s known that all these years. Fashion is not only about necessity but also a form of entertainmentand that is what Betty sells.” Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer

“I would trust this woman with my lifecloset!” Joan Rivers, television personality

“…she’s the go-to celebrity. She’s also the most fun.” Patricia Field, costume designer for Sex & the City

“There’s a pragmatic principle behind the way Betty dresses people. It’s very inclusive. There’s room for everyone in her process. [Betty] is able to be in the fashion world, but also take it down a peg at the same time.” Lena Dunham, writer and actress

“The fashion doctor is in….Even as designers and editors seem to be conspiring to lure women into their latest whims, Betty Halbreich is a scrupulously practical truth-teller. She considers it her job to protect women from clothes that are wrong for them. She takes pride in pushing the least expensive items she can find, when it’s appropriate…A brassy Chicago native with a manner that’s part Angela Lansbury and part Lucille Ball, Halbreich believes in taking chances with color and accessorizing lavishly.” Bob Morris, New York magazine

Author Q&A

Excerpt

The pieces I pulled the day before were lined up in my dressing room with military precision in the order I planned to present them to my client—a very tailored woman who typically wore extremely expensive clothing—were a cashmere double-breasted jacket, various tops in crisp white percale, cropped khaki pants, and dresses separated by ones for day and others for night. All lined up, they told a story.

To have a closet fully packed and presented to you is a gift. That is not to say the women I work with adore all of the items I choose, but the experience of walking into my dressing room for an appointment makes for something individual and special. The clothes I work with as a personal shopper (a title I have never particularly favored) are an extravagance unto themselves—the price tags on many are often too rich for my midwestern sensibilities. Yet the true luxury of what I do is the knowledge my client has as I slip a sweater over her shoulders or zip a dress up the back that I was thinking only of her when I selected the garment.

Many women are nervous when they first step into my office. I am the antidote to the intimidation of shopping, but it is difficult here at Bergdorf Goodman, probably the most beautiful store there is because of the years on it. Even the location of its elegant, mansard-style building on the site of the former Vanderbilt mansion is venerable.Even though it has been my place of work for thirty-seven years, I understand its effect.

It’s beautiful, but the store itself is not all that my clients are seeking. Often, their need runs deeper. I put a lot of myself into the heads and bodies of my clients whom I want to dress as well as I would myself.

When gathering for a client, I can have only one woman in mind. The approach takes longer, but I’ve never been much of a multitasker. Having grown up around and lived with beautiful clothes and fabrics, it is sometimes difficult to see the new and appreciate it. But I romance the clothes in my mind. Instinctively, I feel the fabric, see the allure.

Like most of my clients, I had known the woman I was seeing today for a long time. Her mother-in- law was one of my first friends when I moved to New York and has been dead twenty-seven years; I don’t believe in disposable fashion or people.

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