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 40 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 20 after marrying the dashing Sonny Halbreich, a true character right out of Damon Runyon who liked the nightlife of New York in the '50s. 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.
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.
©2014 Betty Halbreich and Rebecca Paley (P)2014 Penguin Audio
"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 35 years, and she's only 30.' 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 entertainment - and that is what Betty sells." (Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer)
If you love clothes and have a keening interest in the vintage construction and luxe fabrics of times gone by, you will love this book. If clothes are not interesting to you, this book will bore you in places. Betty Halbreich's past is not heroic or triumphant - it is the story of a wealthy girl growing up during a time when little was expected of women except to look decorative, create a well-run, comfortable home, and spend their husband's earnings to do it. Intelligent, creative or ambitious women paid a high price for that comfortable nest - little was expected of them, and their sense of self was defined for them. Betty Halbreich's passion for fashion and style probably kept her from going bonkers in the process. Other reviewers might judge her harshly by today's parenting or partnering standards, but that's simply not fair - the social fabric was completely different then and womens' ability to imagine an alternative path was constricted by forces outside their control. The second half of her life, she built a path for herself at Bergdorf Goodman's - and while the reader might roll their eyes about some of her clients' pampered lives, her approach to building a stronger self through style is human and fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and Betty - and mmmmmm the clothes, too.
A lovely listen. It's very interesting to hear the point of view of someone who is so different than myself however, in some ways we are exactly the same.
Four stars for the story- at some points I felt it was repetitive but don't let that stop you from listening if the subject interests you.
To me, this book was one-third fashion memoir, one-third shopping advice, and one-third personal-evolution confessional.
Although I came for the fashion and shopping dish, it was actually Halbreich's personal story that resonated with me the most.
She grew up pampered and privileged, married a fairytale Prince Charming, but (surprise!) didn't live happily ever after. Following the familiar mid-century trajectory, by the early 70's her marriage was over and she was figuring things out with the help of a therapist.
It was the job at Bergdorf's that resurrected her sense of self back then, and there's no question it's still what keeps her so sharp and relevant at 87 years old.
If you're a fashion addict, fashion historian, aspiring designer--or all of the above--you really can't pass up this detailed, name-dropping, autobiographical romp through 20th century fashion design.
There are also some interesting insights into how merchandise in stores like Bergdorf's is manipulated and hidden from regular customers by commissioned salespeople who "hide and hold" prime sale items for their best customers or themselves. (If you really want the best selection in your size, shop a week or two after a big sale or promotion, when everything "on hold" gets returned to the racks.)
And if you're trying to decide between the print and Audible version of this book, let me tell you: Jane Curtin SO perfectly channels Betty (whom you can watch on several video clips on the web) that the Audible' version's a no-brainer.
I'm guessing Curtin narrated this because she knows Betty personally (she was quoted as a client in Halbreich's first book), but she is also such a pleasure to listen to--I'm seriously in love with her accent and diction-- that I hope she narrates many more books in the future.
It's not at all about drinking. It's about clothing and life and the passing of time. I enjoyed the narration most of all - it accentuated the simple but elegant phrasing and descriptions.
lovely story. every one has trials and tribulations. What a great and inspiring woman. well read.
Yes! I felt a strong connection with the narrative version. Very well done!
A wonderful story of an amazing and inspiring woman, paired with a wonderful narrative. A must!!!
It was read in what seemed to be the voice of the writer with all smirks and smiles that you could imagine.
It started off slow at first as I couldn't identify with her privileged upbringing, although it was never boring. It picked up for me once she started working at Bergdorf's.
Jane Curtain does a marvelous job of reading and I'd love to hear her read more.
The story is good. Well written. I recommend you to read the real book quietly by yourself instead of listening. The narrator is so good, really good, so dramatic, however this is not a fiction book, but you would think so. The whole book is read with slices of hateful tone. It is annoying after a while. Still, it is a soulful book.
Not being interested in clothing history, I'm not sure what made me pick up this book. As the finishing words still echo in my head however, how glad I am that I did. This book, this life, is an adventure of one woman's journey. It's like a private journal of her relationships, her work, her triumphs, her failures, her nuggets of wisdom gleaned from hard effort and hard work. I learned so much about fashion, yes, but I also learned about elegance, and grace, and failure, and weaknesses, and relationships , and fortitude, and learning how to reinvent yourself as life changes around you. My love and thanks to Betty for sharing so much of herself with the world.
The bits on fashion tended to drag on a bit for me, but the gems of beauty when the author described her personal life, the customs and norms of the 1950 New York society, were fascinating. And, yes, I maybe am now considering not wearing my workout clothes everywhere.
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