A life in fashion with Betty halbreich – a book review of I’ll drink to that

by Sylvia

Book review of I'll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich | 40plusstyle.com

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?


Images sources, Telegraph, Daily Mail, AvenueMagazine 

1 Roielyn

I will look for this book in Denmark.
Maybe…I will ask this as a christmas present!
About your blog, Iam 42 and I have accepted being in my 40’s. With a new hairstyle and outfits/style makes me feel good at this age.
I look forward always to read your blog.
Thank you.

2 Sylvia

Lovely to hear from you Roielyn and thanks for the kind feedback!

3 Patti

Sounds terrific, Sylvia!

4 Jill

Wow, now I must buy the book! Great write up, Sylvia!

5 Suzanne

Thank you for writing about this book. I will be looking for it. Sounds like a wonderful read.


6 Sylvia

I found it a great read. I love women of that age that are still so active and full of life. Gives me lots of good vibes for the next 50 years!

7 Greetje Kamminga

It sounds indeed like a wonderful read, but I have 5 books still to read and no time whatsoever. So I will keep it on my wishlist.
It does sound however like a very good book.

8 Greetje Kamminga

Oh and I have used a personal shopper. Twice. It was heaven! Why? Because…
1) she had “the eye” (= knowing how to style) and 2) she knew instantly and exactly where to find things.

9 Aileen

Thanks Sylvia, I would love to read this book. Is it a book with a lot of photos which would be nice to have a hardback or paperback copy, or is it mainly text and reading it on a Kindle would be enough?
Thanks again Sylvia.

10 Sylvia

I read the kindle version and it had no photos…

11 Aileen Wrennall

Thanks Sylvia.

12 Rita

I had a sales lady that I bought a few things from a Nordstrom (mostly shoes!). I know they work on commission, so if someone is helpful, or I get to know them, I tend to stay loyal. After a time, she became a personal shopper and kept wanting to style me anytime I came in for something specific. I finally let her pull out a few things and tried them on, but even though I thought we had gotten to know each other a bit over several months, she still didn’t get where my comfort zone is, colors and cuts that I prefer, etc. She tried to make me fit into the trends. Plus, as a personal shopper, her goal really is to sell, sell, sell, so there was always the pressure to buy something or three. So, not a comfortable experience for me at all.

13 denton

This is the difference btw a good and a bad SA. Every SA dreams of being a ‘personal shopper’ to the rich and famous, but, as in most endeavors in life, only the few can rise to the occasion. It takes a special person to really be able to make each and every customer feel beautiful within their budget. Betty Halbreich had that talent. But most don’t, they are just peddlers trying to sell goods.

14 Sylvia

That is disappointing Rita. I think that it is crucial that you really understand and get to know the client for whom you are shopping and be honest at all times. I think that would be the only way to keep customers happy long-term and you can really establish an win-win relationship!

15 denton

The NY Times has done a few pieces on her, this is my favorite.


16 Sylvia

Lovely article Denton and great to see the pictures of her apartment!

17 Rebecca

I really enjoyed reading Betty Halbreich’s memoire and having seen her a few times at work in Bergdorf know just how stylish and commanding a presence she is. As a part time sales associate in a NYC women’s clothing store, I found her observations to be right on target about women and shopping. Although I haven’t used the services of a personal shopper, in the past, I did use the services of a couple of image and wardrobe consultants.

18 Sylvia

How lovely that you have seen her. Next time I’m in New York, I will make sure to go and visit too!

19 Barbra

I’m getting the book this weekend. Fell in love with Betty after viewing Bury my Ashes at Bergdorf…she is a truth teller of the highest calibre. Women like her are rare at any age. May she live forever.

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