So yesterday I pulled out a few standout passages from the book I’ll Drink to That: A Life in Style with a Twist by Betty Halbreich with Rebecca Paley. You’ll probably enjoy it if you can say yes to any of the following:
1. You do personal shopping and would love to hear from someone who has done it longer than you have.
2. You love the store Bergdorf Goodman and make it the first place you go to when you hit NYC.
3. You’re fascinated by compulsive people and want to see inside their closets.
4. You had a troubled childhood and want to compare your troubled childhood to someone else’s troubled childhood.
5. You’re fascinated by high society, where they shop and what they shop for.
6. You’re curious about how someone could go from a mental institution to a job at Bergdorf Goodman in record time.
7. You’ve always been a big fan of designer Geoffrey Beene and and you want to get some inside scoop from someone who worked under him.
8. You LOVE vintage handkerchiefs.
I can say yes to almost all of those items. Have I captured your interest yet?
There are a couple of things I’ve pondered since finishing it.
Betty says, “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.” I say in my experience, it doesn’t always work that way.
When I’m in the dressing room with a client and I love what I see the moment she slips into something, I will start out by asking her how she feels in it. Sometimes she has an answer, sometimes she doesn’t. I’m most curious to know if she’s seeing what I’m seeing — a perfect fit between her and this garment.
When I tell her how it looks through my eyes–how it fits her perfectly, how it brings out a quality of her personality that she’s ready to bring out, how and why it makes her look youthful, vibrant, radiant–she may suddenly see the whole image as I’m seeing it. My explanation helps her translate what she’s looking at in the mirror. She hasn’t seen herself like this before. It’s new to her. She may even be scared or nervous. “Can I really look this great?” she may be thinking.
Note: I did have one client say to me consistently after I’d ask her the how does this feel or look to you question, “Brenda, the reason I hire you is for you to tell me what looks good on me. If you like it, I like it.”
That worked for that person. More often a client is showing excitement about what she sees in the mirror even though she’s in clothes she NEVER would have picked out on her own. I can see it in her eyes or suddenly her body looks so comfortable. I’ll often say to her, “It’s going to take your eye a little bit of time to get used to this look, but let me reassure you, this is exactly what I was hoping we’d find. In fact, it exceeds my expectations.”
Betty and I have something in common in that we both want our clients to love their wardrobes. Betty says, “That was the magic word. Love. I wanted women to love themselves instantly when they put on a new coat, dress, or whatever. Having established that a human didn’t need more than one outfit to wear and another while it was at the cleaner, what else was the purpose of buying all these clothes? To face the world and feel better.”
Yes, I want the exact same thing for my clients: for them to be able to face the world and feel better as a result of our work together. I just don’t think it can always happen in that dressing room moment.
While we’re shopping together I always remind the client that this is not the final answer on her purchases. (This works in a store that has a generous return policy.) I always want to have a closet visit a week or two later. That’s when we discover whether items are working or not, whether we still love them or not, or whether an item she wasn’t sure of actually turns out to be the favorite one of all! Recently a green sweater dress that was a “maybe” for a client turned into an “I love it!!”
This relieves a lot of pressure on the shopping day. We’re not often buying just one outfit per shopping trip. We’re buying separates that I will work into outfits. Or if we’re buying dresses I still want to put the whole thing together at home: add the shoes, accessories, outerwear, underwear, the works! And maybe I’ll create three ways to wear that dress–a dressy way, a casual way and one in between.
Back in her closet I can roll my sleeves up and start making outfits for her lifestyle, mixing older items in with the new ones and watching magic happen…or not. If it’s not happening and the garment just isn’t cutting it at home, we take it back. I want my clients to be wearing their investments as soon as possible. It’s often that once we’re out of the glare of the dressing room and back into her closet that the shopping trip gets even better! Once I incorporate the new things with some of her old favorites, her wardrobe is suddenly fresh and full of vitality. Now she’s REALLY loving the pieces!
And that’s not where Betty will ever be. At the beginning of the book Betty was having a hard time finding a blouse to go with a palazzo pant she found for a shopping client of hers. She’s limited by what’s in Bergdorf Goodman. She can’t go over to Saks or Bloomingdale’s or Barney’s to find that perfect blouse because she’s the store’s personal shopper, not an independent personal shopper. So she’s says, “I couldn’t send her home without a complete outfit. If I didn’t find the missing piece to the puzzle, she would never have the courage to put them on after they entered her closet. The door of my office is where I draw the line. I’m not part of the package–I don’t go home with the pants.”
I’m so happy to have the freedom I do. I love going home with the pants. I get to practice a wholistic approach where I’m my client’s wardrobe coach, not just a shopper. My duties include everything that has to do with clothes: shopping wherever it works best for my client, editing a wardrobe, packing for a trip, outfitting her for her daily life, dressing her for the events in the weeks and months ahead. I get to help her look great 24/7. It makes me happy and it makes my clients happy too.
I hope to be doing this, just like Betty is, when I’m eighty-six years old. Wouldn’t that be glorious?