Clothes and how to wear them have been a constant in Betty Halbreich’s life for most of her 86 years.
As fate would have it she landed a job at Bergdorf Goodman as a personal shopper almost four decades ago. The opportunity couldn’t have been better timed. She was fresh out of a mental hospital after a breakdown following her split with her husband Sonny Halbreich, whom she had met in Miami Beach while on vacation with her mother.
Fashion and style loomed large in her proper upbringing as a lonely only child in Chicago. At the famed department store, it saved her life.
Halbreich, with two grown children and three grandchildren, is remarkably still on the job, pulling looks for clients from the racks at Bergdorf and posing them in front of her unforgiving three-way mirror in the Solutions Department. She lays out her life in I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style with a Twist, co-written by Rebecca Paley and released by Penguin Press.
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Closets have always been a source of comfort to you.
They’re my playhouse, like my dollhouse when I was growing up. I can get up in the middle of the night and start doing them. I live in eight rooms. I have 12 closets. I just keep rearranging all the retro clothes backward and forward. Closets and keeping them neat are like a hobby.
You have an odd relationship with mirrors. You’re surrounded by them all day long at the store.
My mirrors are three-way, and most women do not like that three-way mirror thrown at them, where you see your rear end and your side view. But if they’re really enamored of some beautiful piece of clothing it works. I know what looks good on them the minute they put it on. Look, 37 years of this stupid job, if I don’t know that it doesn’t look good on them I should really leave.
So you don’t live, eat and breathe fashion and shopping?
When I leave the store I try to live another life. I don’t talk about clothes. I don’t tread in other stores. I find it extremely boring. It’s like eating too much candy. I don’t want to bring it home. I’m really not interested.
Have you ever dressed Lena Dunham? She’s developing a TV series inspired by you and your book.
Absolutely with a great big N.O. Never. Never attempted to. Never talked about it. I feel like she’s my other child. We’re soul mates in a strange way. We think a lot alike. She’s sweeter than I am.
You appeared in the documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” Where would you like your ashes to go?
I’d like my son, who loves Chicago like I do, to take them back. I was back there recently. I felt like I’ve never left it, or why did I leave it? You really can go home again. So I would like them to be scattered there. Or flushed. Either way.