This 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.