I just finished reading I’ll drink to that – A life in style – with a twist by Betty Halbreich. To be honest I had never heard of the lady, but oh boy am I a fan now. I want to go to New York and meet her!

So who is Betty Halbreich?

Betty Halbreich is the Director of Solutions at Bergdorf & Goodman. She advises women on what to wear and is sometimes referred to as the oldest personal shopper. Did I tell you she is 86?

Yes, she is still working there today.

Betty’s story is fascinating. Growing up as a pretty girl in a well-to-do family she married her prince charming young, got a couple of kids and basically spent her days dressing up and looking pretty. After about 20 years of that the marriage fell apart and she ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Straight after that she got her lucky break and was offered a job as a sales woman at Bergdorf’s and thus began the legend of the famous personal shopper. Although I shouldn’t really use that word (legend) because she loathes being referred as such.

She makes an appearance in the recent documentary Scatter my ashes at bergdorf’s (also recommended).

What makes the book such a good read is Betty’s honesty about her life. Both her gifts and her faults. She also throws around a lot of truths about dressing and is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Here are  just a few snippets from the book:

On the glamour of Bergdorf’s

“A large mix of people walk through the store, every nationality and every age, even if it is just to look. I don’t care where the person who walks in hails from they are awed. Many don’t stay. They walk in one door and directly out the next. Sometimes it worries me that the place feels too out of reach”.

On personal shopping and helping women overcome their insecurities

“In the simple act of disrobing, a woman bares her soul, and I am there as a witness. Stripped of her clothes, she is very exposed. It is my job to make her comfortable with me and ultimately with herself”.

“While reinvention is hard in any context, in the fitting room it can be excruciating. My ladies say they want something new, but once they stand in front of the mirror naked to the world, they battle physical flaws, real or perceived. In that moment they return to their security”.


“To help women move thier style forward while still retaining their identity and comfort, I take a triangulated approach – the classic threefer, if you will. I generally pull three groups of items: those that are too easy, those that are too hard, and something in the middle.”

“Jackets are the easiest place to start, not least of all because one doesn’t need to get undressed to try them on”.

“Even more important than having a keen sense of fit and color is the ability to discern another person’s deep desires, which I can only do in a one-on-one situation. That’s why I’m constantly trying to push others out of my fitting room”.

“I tell all my clients that you should love yourself in something immediately: nothing gets better the more times you look at it in the mirror.”

On fashion designers

“For some godforsaken reason, designers today refuse to give the option of a sleeve – and women, as a rule, do not like their upper arms. You can work out from now to kingdom come (or so I hear) and the arms are either too muscular or too flabby.”

“Designers have come to believe that a small armhole and a narrow sleeve makes the garment young, and all brands are fighting this bizarre conception of youth (a big mistake, since no one can be all things to all people).”….”My poor clients. While fashion is supposed to boost the self esteem of women by cloaking them in beautiful things, it seems to me that its new aim is quite the opposite. Lovely older women are punished for not spending every waking minute in the gym, wasting away on a juice fast or endangering their lives with liposuction.”

On the importance of clothes

“In my business I have witnessed how the superficial cover of clothes can become essential in trying times. The ease and joy of slipping on a pair of fresh new shoes eclipses a balanced check book or other more noble pursuits when one faces the darkest challenges.”

“My clients often ask for advice on how to get rid of clothing. I always say to keep the beautiful pieces: embroidered, beaded, or one-of-a-kind looks. They are usually sumptuous and feel new when revisited. Treat them like lovely antiques.”

Betty Halbreich

On modern times

“I cannot let go of the old routines no matter how outdated or outmoded they may be. For example, I would never in a million years dream of going out in public barefaced. I have to put on lipstick and mascara even to travel half a block for a loaf of bread.”

“I marveled at the glamour of my mother and her friends having a merry old time in their strapless dresses with brooches pinned to the cleavage. (Nowadays everybody under fifty wants to be nude and everyone over fifty covered up like a nun.”

On work

“I’m still very strict and disciplined in my work, but at this point I hearken to no man. (They are scared to death of me here; that’s the fun part.) I have been at Bergdorf so long that it has become my store.”

What I also found fascinating to read is that throughout the different stages of her life she is a different person and that life can be fully enjoyed at any age.

First she is the pretty young girl that craves attention from her parents. Then the dependent beautiful young woman who is longing for more alone time with her sociable husband. Then the pleasant middle-aged working woman and companion to her second life partner who likes to stay at home and lead a quiet life after work. And then finally, after the death of her partner, the vibrant older woman who likes to go out a lot with friends, finally fully independent and comfortable with being alone, embracing life to the fullest.

We can certainly drink to that!

Have you ever enlisted the services of a personal shopper? How was the experience for you?

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Sylvia is 40+style’s editor-in-chief and has been helping women find their unique style since 2011. An alumni of the School of Color and Design, she is devoted to empowering women of any age to look and feel their best. Read more about Sylvia and 40+style on this page.

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