Book Review: I’ll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

HalbreichDrinkThis might be one of the most persuasive books ever written on the importance of working outside the home. Betty Halbreich traces her transformation from a timid young woman into a celebrity fashion consultant for the luxury store Bergdorf Goodman. By her own account, she was a limited and anxious woman before she started working. With a large household staff to take care of her family, her life was filled mainly with shopping in order to impress her equally privileged friends. Even though she felt trapped in her marriage, when her husband finally left she attempted suicide, spending six weeks in psychiatric clinic. Working saved her life.

Through the help of friends, she began to find jobs in the fashion industry. With little work experience, she got hired because of her personal style. That was her main qualification for work at Bergdorf’s, she says. “My appearance, the way I paired a print or tied a blouse, gave the illusion of confidence and mastery.”(112) Once there, she carved out a position as a personal shopper and consultant for costume designers.

Not many octogenarians know as much about luxury fashion as Halbreich. She rails against designers who have jettisoned sleeves in dresses and those who only make clothes in small sizes. “While fashion was supposed to boost the self esteem of women by cloaking them in beautiful things, it seemed to me that its new aim was quite the opposite. Lovely older women were punished for not spending every waking minute in the gym, wasting away on a juice fast, or endangering their lives with liposuction.”(213)

Unfortunately, Halbreich tells us little about her own fashion choices. There isn’t a single picture of her and nothing to indicate how her own style changed as she aged. My advice—get this book from the library and read it with a big glass of wine or your drink of choice. Halbreich favors vodka.

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5 Responses to Book Review: I’ll Drink to That by Betty Halbreich

  1. Robert Moeller says:

    I wonder if the title was borrowed from the Stephen Sondheim song in Company, where Elaine Stritch is also drinking to that. Sounds like the “ladies who lunch” here are the ones Halbreich was escaping.

    Here’s to the ladies who lunch–
    Everybody laugh.
    Lounging in their caftans
    And planning a brunch
    On their own behalf.
    Off to the gym,
    Then to a fitting,
    Claiming they’re fat.
    And looking grim,
    ‘Cause they’ve been sitting
    Choosing a hat.
    Does anyone still wear a hat?
    I’ll drink to that.
    And here’s to the girls who play smart–
    Aren’t they a gas?
    Rushing to their classes
    In optical art,
    Wishing it would pass.
    Another long exhausting day,
    Another thousand dollars,
    A matinee, a Pinter play,
    Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s.
    I’ll drink to that.
    And one for Mahler!
    And here’s to the girls who play wife–
    Aren’t they too much?
    Keeping house but clutching
    A copy of LIFE,
    Just to keep in touch.
    The ones who follow the rules,
    And meet themselves at the schools,
    Too busy to know that they’re fools.
    Aren’t they a gem?
    I’ll drink to them!
    Let’s all drink to them!
    And here’s to the girls who just watch–
    Aren’t they the best?
    When they get depressed,
    It’s a bottle of Scotch,
    Plus a little jest.
    Another chance to disapprove,
    Another brilliant zinger,
    Another reason not to move,
    Another vodka stinger.
    I’ll drink to that.
    So here’s to the girls on the go–
    Everybody tries.
    Look into their eyes,
    And you’ll see what they know:
    Everybody dies.
    A toast to that invincible bunch,
    The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
    Let’s hear it for the ladies who lunch–
    Everybody rise!
    Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!

  2. Carol in Denver says:

    I’ve just started reading this book. I’d love to see photos of her in her clothes. The cape she has on (see cover above) looks as though it has no sleeves or armholes. I once saw a photo of her wearing what looked to be a dark-colored crinkled taffeta dress with a high ruche collar which brushed her chin. Beautiful and elegant. I’d love to see outfits she has put together for others, too.

  3. Jen O says:

    This book sounds like a good read. Your review implies there is a sub-text here: that a woman of wealth can find happiness in a career of distinction, due to her membership in a class that patronizes mostly itself. Even though she excelled in her career (obviously she was well placed) I wonder where she would have landed had her husband been a delivery man.

  4. Michellebeth says:

    I read Betty’s first book, “Secrets of a Fashion Therapist”, way back in 1997, before Betty was known all over. That book is the how-to go-to that I think most of us were hoping for “I’ll drink to that”. I wasn’t expected such a detailed autobiography, and I found much of her story very sad. Yes, she overcame a lot of problems, and Hurrah! that she is funny, outspoken, gorgeous and engaging at age 86. But her book was not a happy read.

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