I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 forty 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 ...
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I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist

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This item will be available on September 4, 2014.
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Overview

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 forty 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 twenty after marrying the dashing Sonny Halbreich, a true character right out of Damon Runyon who liked the nightlife of New York in the fifties. 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 hit rock bottom.



After she began the frightening process of reclaiming herself and started therapy, Halbreich was offered a lifeline in the form of a job at the legendary luxury store Bergdorf Goodman. Soon, she was asked to run the store’s first personal shopping service. It was a perfect fit.



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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/21/2014
Sartorial style becomes a philosophy of life in this spirited memoir by Halbreich (Secrets of a Fashion Therapist), Bergdorf Goodman’s legendary personal shopper and the subject of the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. From her affluent childhood in 1930s Chicago, through her moneyed but turbulent married life in New York, to her divorce and nervous breakdown at middle age, Halbreich recounts her life in clothes. High-end shopping had long been her major consolation when, in 1977, she found her calling: to help women—rich and poor, famous and obscure—find themselves by finding the right outfit at Bergdorf’s. When dressing clients, Halbreich explains, “I try to steer them away from the herd and make them understand the beauty of individuality.” She is a beacon of good taste and good sense, particularly when sharing her tart opinions on the vulgar fashion trends of the past quarter-century. The downside to her philosophizing is a tendency to lapse into cliché. (Perhaps we do not need a personal shopper to pronounce that when she was unhappy she did not know herself, whereas “now I am happy, because I do know myself.”) Still, Halbreich comes across as sage and gracious as she narrates a life full of incident, taking us inside the fashion industry and one of its great institutions. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101634554
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/4/2014
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 92,658

Meet the Author


Betty Halbreich is the director of Solutions at Bergdorf Goodman. The author of Secrets of a Fashion Therapist, Halbreich regularly dispenses her unique brand of wit and style in a wide range of media outlets from the Today show to the Wall Street Journal to Refinery29. The legendary personal shopper—who has been impeccably dressing her clients for forty years and herself for eighty-six—was featured in The New Yorker and the 2013 documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s. She is also the inspiration for a forthcoming HBO television series written by Lena Dunham.
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Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Betty Halbreich

The pieces I pulled the day before were lined up in my dressing room with military precision, in the order I planned to present them to my client—a very tailored
woman who typically wore extremely expensive clothing—were a cashmere double-breasted jacket, various tops in crisp white percale, cropped khaki pants, and dresses categorized into ones for day and others for night. They weren’t separates unified simply by taste but rather possessed a continuity that I saw in my head and would introduce to the client on her body. The cashmere jacket was to be paired with the cropped pants for a weekend afternoon or matched with the charcoal gray skirt for a business lunch—and white percale goes with practically anything. Together the disparate items I gathered made a series of outfits. A story, if you like. To have a closet fully packed and presented to you is a gift. That is not to say that the women I work with adore all the items I choose, but the experience of walking into my dressing room for an appointment makes for something individual and special. The clothes I work with as a personal shopper (a title I have never particularly favored) are an extravagance unto themselves—the price tags on many are often too rich for my Midwestern sensibilities. Yet the true luxury of what I do is the knowledge my client has as I slip a sweater over her shoulders or zip a dress up the back that I was thinking only of her when I selected the garment.

Many women are nervous when they first step into my office. I am the antidote to the intimidation of shopping, but it is difficult here at Bergdorf Goodman, probably the most beautiful store there is because of the years on it. Even the location of its elegant, mansard-style building on the site of the former Vanderbilt mansion is venerable. One walks into the store and gasps: It is truly opulent. Light twinkles from crystal chandeliers at the center of magnificent white rotundas. Even updated, the French moldings and paneled walls display old-fashioned charm that simply cannot be built into new stores.

It’s beautiful, but the store itself is not all that my clients are seeking. Often their need runs deeper. A great many of them require mothering, which I provide in various ways. The simplest is the advice I dispense from the list of purveyors I have amassed over the years in a leather-bound book I keep handily on my desk. My clients don’t just ask me about what to wear; they also want to know the best nursery schools to send their children to, a hand laundry that does linens, or the best chocolates I have ever eaten. And I oblige—with dentists, party planners, bakeries, whatever they require. I am the ultimate trusted source, because when a person enters my dressing room and takes off her clothes, I must instill confidence. I also become a listening post and hear things my clients won’t tell their husbands, best friends, or real mothers. I don’t mind. It’s much easier to take care of other people than it is yourself. I put a lot of myself into the heads and bodies of my clients, whom I want to dress as well as I would myself. Having grown up around and lived with beautiful clothes and fabrics all my life, I sometimes find it difficult to see the new and appreciate it—even here at Bergdorf Goodman, a store many consider to be the ultimate in fashion and my place of work for the last thirty-eight years. But I romance the clothes in my mind. Instinctively I feel the fabric, see the allure.

When I’m gathering, I can have only one woman in mind. This approach takes longer, but I’ve never been much of a multitasker. It also has the blessed benefit of making the seven floors of the Fifth Avenue store new every time I travel them for a different client. By the end of a season, the clothes are like old relatives that one knows all too well. But in the game I play with myself, looking closely at the same departments and clothes as if I have never seen them before, I always find something new.

In the dressing room, I straightened a persimmon sheath dress and considered the woman arriving in several hours for an appointment to answer two different needs: a new dress for a benefit luncheon hosted by her daughter and a few pieces that were more casual than she was used to for a trip to Aspen with an old college friend who was not nearly as dressy as she. Calling them “needs” was something of a misnomer. In truth, we need very little. Certainly nobody needs all these clothes. Want, however, is something else. Whether they buy them at H&M or Bergdorf, women love clothes. You can get someone at the lowest point of her day and make her feel good (at least for a moment) with a new shirt or, even better, a dress. It doesn’t matter how erudite or worldly someone is—doctors, bankers, artists—they all want a fix. The client in question, a lawyer who worked at a top Manhattan firm, was no exception. Her large frame, however, made fitting her a challenge. Over the years I had gently nudged her away from her comfort zone of jackets and matching suits to a softer, more feminine look. The mere fact that she was big didn’t mean she wasn’t a woman. As with most of my clients, I had known her a long time. Her mother- in-law had been one of my first friends when I moved to New York and has been dead twenty-seven years. I don’t believe in disposable fashion or people.

The phone rang in my adjacent office. Back at my desk to answer the call, I looked out at the stunning view from my office window that unfurls past the Plaza and the Pulitzer Fountain, to Central Park, and up Fifth Avenue. Although it was raining when I got into a cab to come to work, I could see the sun breaking through over the Upper East Side.

On the end of the telephone line was another long-standing client calling to say she needed new pants.

“What do you need new pants for?” I asked. I’m the only sales-person on earth to dissuade customers from buying; I’m known for it. Here was a woman whose husband of forty years was dying of pancreatic cancer and she was contemplating pants?

“I know exactly what you have, because I sold them to you,” I said.

“They are not very exciting. Exciting pants I’ve never seen. Unless we are talking about what’s inside pants.”

The woman on the phone didn’t need pants; she needed a visit. She had fallen out of my life for a long time but reappeared six months earlier, after her husband’s diagnosis. Ever since then she had come for a lot of retail therapy. I kept the appointments frequent but the bills low.

I made a mental note to find out where one could buy those special tabs to affix to zippers for women who have to get into dresses by themselves—another client of mine, whose husband had had a stroke, showed me the clever invention last time she was in the store. This client, too, would need them to zip her own dresses when her husband would eventually lose his battle to cancer.

“We will get you something,” I told her, taking out my well-worn leather-bound datebook. “When do you want to come in?”

Just as I finished writing the word “pants” under her appointment entry in my book, in walked my first client of the morning, a new person I had only previously talked to on the phone.

Through all the years of being “at the same station” and seeing the many hundreds of personalities who’ve come through the door during that time, as soon as someone enters my office, I pretty well know what I’ll be dealing with. The unsmiling woman before me, clad in all black, birdlike in stature and movement, clutching a small purse as if it were a life preserver, was a reluctant patient. No doubt about it.

Now standing on my threshold, Mrs. P, the silver-haired society wife of an industrialist, had been adamant when we talked on the phone prior to her appointment about why, after nearly fifty years of dressing herself, she’d decided to come to me.

“I have to dress appropriately,” she’d said. “None of my beautiful clothes are appropriate for me anymore.” She named every French, American, Italian couture designer in her closet!

“You’re making it too important,” I had replied. In our subsequent conversation, the frustration in her voice lessened as we talked about her desire for a change to suit her age. In other words, she needed an updating.

Yet as I now made eye contact with this woman, who lived in an apartment with a prominent address, full of art and beautiful clothes, I could see she was absolutely petrified. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, but generally when women first come to me, they are very apprehensive. I don’t know why: Maybe it’s the store that people have adorned with so many absurd titles, like “Mecca of Style” or “Fifth Avenue’s Finest.” Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s my white hair!

Sensing this apprehension in Mrs. P, I immediately sat her on the soft love seat beside my desk to make light chatter. After all, I’m here to serve. My bedside manner settled her down while we retraced ground on her needs and desires.

“I would like to look like you,” Mrs. P said.

As she gave my ensemble of twenty-year-old black pants, a chartreuse collarless jacket, and gold star pin that had been my mother’s the old up-and-down, I thought if she only she knew how little clothes meant to me. I have often toyed with the idea of wearing a vendeuse smock like the kind they used to wear in the ateliers in Paris, but I must keep a semblance of my personal fashion sense in my line of work.

“And I would like to live in your building!” I replied.

The one-liner made her laugh and eased any tension. We weren’t in competition. “Come on,” I said, “let’s look. I will lead the way, because it is very bewildering. We’ll go slow, and you don’t have to feel compelled to buy anything.”

We set out from my cozy office, blessedly hidden away at the end of a long corridor of dressing rooms in a nondescript corner of the third floor. Walking the floor—which I do alone every morning before the store opens, irrespective of weather, tragedy, or sickness— is not something I like to do with clients. Unlike the singular and luxurious experience of having a whole wardrobe brought to you, doing the large, crowded floor is confusing, overwhelming, and not in any way one-on-one.

But I always walk through the store with a new client. The first meeting with anyone is something of a test run. I can get the feel of a new client’s body just by looking at the person, but to understand her personality, lifestyle, sense of color, fantasies for herself? For that I find I’m not successful unless I eyeball her in action. Our going through the floors of the store together is a lot of wasted walking time (I can do them so much faster myself, for I know all seven like the back of my hand). There is much touching and feeling of material—and talking, not just about clothes but also about what the women do for a living, how they act with their children and husbands, the depth and breadth of their social lives. I closely watch their reactions as I show them things they would never put on themselves. That is what I’m here for—to open them up to new worlds. Why else would they come to me? While I was escorting Mrs. P onto the elevator, a woman exited with a stroller that held an infant who couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old. When we got off the elevator, in rolled an elderly woman in a wheelchair pushed by an attendant. A large mix of people walk through the store, every nationality and every age, even if it is just to look. I don’t care where the person who walks in hails from—Saudi princesses or tourists from the South—they are awed. Many don’t stay. They walk in one door and directly out the next. Sometimes it worries me that the place feels too out of reach. I don’t care for that kind of snobbishness.

Mrs. P and I arrived at the second floor, which houses the luxury brands that can be found in malls stretching from Beijing to Birmingham. In general I don’t do much there. I prefer individuality to ubiquity. Strolling past a dress in glove leather by a popular Italian design house, I couldn’t help but peek at the price tag, only to roll my eyes in disgust; one drop of red pasta sauce and the wearer would be out three thousand dollars. Mrs. P, looking as lost as a little girl in a deep forest, asked, “How do you deal with these clothes?” I pulled her away from a dress splattered with paint à la Jackson Pollock and beckoned her into the fur department, where one of the designers who had started as a furrier had become a grand dressmaker as well.

“He makes lovely clothes,” I said about the designer. “A lot of people don’t make nice clothes anymore. They use what once was lining material and call it a dress. This designer uses extravagant, beautiful fabrics, but his prices are absolutely obscene. One pays for quality.”

She held up a jacket made of white sheepskin and black leather, with monkey-fur epaulets, a misstep in an otherwise perfectly beautiful collection, as if to prove me wrong. She reminded me of a petulant child who finds the one exception to every rule.

“Let’s go up to saner clothes,” I said.

“I believe in you.”

“Don’t believe in me.”

On the fourth floor, I showed her a dress by a young American designer with a pattern of colorful bunches of flowers against a royal blue background. “It has a nice fit for your body,” I said.

“It’s awful.”

Instead Mrs. P turned to a sleeveless shell dress with matching three-quarter-length coat in elephant gray. “This I like,” she said.

“And you probably already have it in your closet. Every New York woman does. Let’s move on.”

It was becoming clear that Mrs. P wasn’t going to let go of her hang-ups without a fight. Tough cookies, however, are my specialty.

I kept moving. At a black wool cape with a dramatic, positively clerical, white collar that tied, I commented, “Isn’t this beautiful?”

“But it isn’t fun.”

Oh, I did not like this game. Not one little bit. Mrs. P veered off into a boutique I don’t frequent very often, a society designer too mundane for my taste in his overuse of sparkles, feather, and tulle.

“My mother loved feathers,” I reminisced out loud at the sight of a dress trimmed with white feathers around the neckline. “Wherever she went, she left a trail of them. Feathers are not my favorite. I like birds, but not feathers.”

Mrs. P took a sparkly black blouse off the rack and said, “This is like a white horse—you could take it anywhere.”

It was gracious and feminine in its round neck and it had sleeves. A miracle!

“It’s actually very pretty,” I said, putting the garment over my arm to bring back to my dressing room. “Now let’s leave this department.”

Mrs. P protested, to which I said, “Well then, you don’t need me. You can just shop at the store.”

Stomping her foot, she said, “I don’t want to spend the time. I want you to do it for me!”

While I kid by calling myself a “clerk,” I am pleased to be of help whether it’s to hunt for a wedding dress or just to provide a diversion for an hour. At times, however, when I deal with difficult women—those who let me know they’re spending money, for instance—I put my foot down. If not I’ll get run over and killed. I am most definite about how I work. Mrs. P and I needed to gather a few items to whet her appetite and then return to the dressing room. Otherwise we were headed for a tantrum.

I pulled a sumptuous cashmere turtleneck with an interesting block print by a brand that, having begun as a manufacturer of fabric in Italy’s Lake Como, still took pride in craftsmanship. Its extravagant materials are what fabrics were like when I entered this business. “Just feel it,” I said. “It has a European flair.”

“I want to be very simple. I don’t want to be cluttered.”

“Try it on so we don’t have to go through this next time,” I said, and laid the sweater on top of the sparkly shirt.

My next find, a cherry red wool dress with puffed bracelet sleeves, went over a little better. It seemed that Mrs. P, like so many others, needed a firm hand.

“That’s not bad,” she said.

“The color is nice.”

“This is an education.”

“This is a dream.”

We moved quickly through peplum skirts and swirling prints, sheaths and leather, to add a cropped tuxedo jacket, a round-necked jacket with a ruffle front, and a charcoal knit top to our collection. It was a small pull, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should a wardrobe be.

On our way to the elevator, we cut through the shoe department, a very confusing department with each pair of shoes more unattractive than the next. A platform bootie in red water snake under a spotlight looked like an artifact on display from an ancient culture that took perverse pleasure in deforming people’s feet. A leopard-print stiletto with a heel topping out at six inches, on a platform as well, would have made a drag queen blush. Whenever I walked behind women wearing these shoes, which was unfortunately quite often, I was struck by the strange, Frankenstein-like gait they produce. Legs in these shoes simply can’t support the height and weight.

“Hello, ladies,” I said to a line of salesgirls buried in their phones. “You look like you’re waiting for the bus.”

Even though they weren’t the type to respond, they were scared to death not to. My age has earned me that deference at least. After they squeaked out a few hellos, they quickly returned to their light world.

Back on the third floor, I ran smack into a pair of palazzo pants, swingy and patterned with large tropical flowers made bolder by a black background. Where had those been hiding? It was sort of a wild idea. Not for Mrs. P (the tiny woman would have drowned in them), but for my tailored client coming later in the day. They were unlike anything she had ever looked at, but I just had a feeling about them. They reminded me of the luaus, the balmy romance, and the feminine dressing I’d seen on my Hawaiian honeymoon a hundred years ago. I draped them over my free arm.

Back in my quiet corner of the store, I took a moment to tuck the palazzo pants into the lineup, placing them at the end—risks always come last. Then I went to the next-door dressing room to deal with Mrs. P.

First I slipped the tuxedo jacket on her—jackets are the easiest place to start, not least of all because one doesn’t need to get undressed to try them on.

“That’s pretty,” I said.

“I don’t like the way it fits in the back of the neck,” she said, tugging at her collar like someone being pulled offstage. Sometimes it’s a wonder I don’t drink at work.

“I guess you’re used to couture clothes,” I said, removing the jacket and placing it outside the dressing room.

I approached her with the turtleneck, but she lost her nerve.

“I can’t wear turtlenecks. I get way too hot.”

I knew it was the mirror. She trained the same harsh judgment she used to quickly dispense with clothing on herself. Mrs. P was starting to panic—I had seen it a million times before—and in a complete reversal of her previously negative pose wanted to buy the red dress and the sparkly top still on their hangers, without trying either of them.

“Oh, no, I don’t sell clothes like that,” I said.

“They’ll be perfect.”

“How do you know until you put them on your body?”

I got the dress over her head. After thirty-eight years of doing this, nobody zips or buttons faster.

“How does it feel here?” I asked, patting her on the hips, knowing full well how it felt.

“Not good. It’s awful. My rear end is sticking out.”

I took the dress off and put on the sparkly shirt, which was very becoming. The silver sequins complemented her bob.

“It’s not exactly me,” Mrs. P said.

“You don’t always want to look like you. . . . It’s beautiful with your hair.”

“What about this?” she said, pointing to her neck, angry at the signs of its age. “I think the scoop neck is too much with this. My legs are the only part left that’s any good.”

Mrs. P looked at herself again and then turned to my reflection to ask, “What do you think?”

What do you think? I’m asked this question constantly. Even the new clients who arrive with very assured thoughts about their likes and dislikes wind up deferring to me in the end.

Mrs. P, so tough and critical on the outside and so desperate on the inside, came to me because she said she was sick of holding on to the past. Confronting her long-gone youth through a closetful of couture clothes that were making her unhappy—and yet, inside my dressing room, she couldn’t let go. Of her youth, her couture clothes, her mother. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t sell her anything, not this time. We still had more work to do—at a later date.

“What I think is the next time I’m the boss,” I said, putting an arm around her tiny frame. “Everything will be compiled and ready for you, whether you like it or not.”

I escorted Mrs. P back to the elevator (I spend so much time in the elevator I should wear a red carnation in my lapel) and down to the basement for some makeup. It’s a must with me to make each woman I deal with, regardless of what shape or look she is, leave my clutches feeling different from when she entered, even if it is only through a new shade of lipstick.

Having dispatched Mrs. P, I had no sooner returned to my office when my tailored client plopped her sizable purse on my love seat. After a quick catch-up about her husband (long-suffering), the dog (ditto), and the apartment (like the store, forever under renovation), we set to work.

I slipped a double-breasted blue cashmere jacket on first to warm her up.

“Quite gorgeous,” she said.

I put it to one side and followed it up with something more challenging: a white dress with polka dots and a black plant pattern that emanated from the bottom as if it were growing up from the hem. “It’s the year of the print,” I said. “You just have to close your eyes and pray.”

Before she had a chance to zip the zipper all the way, I was pulling it down. With as many changes of clothes as I’ve seen, I know these things immediately.

“No, take it off.”

“I liked it on the hanger,” she protested.

“It’s too broadening. All you need is a frame and you’ll look like a botanical picture.”

A draped woven-crepe dress in black was just as bad.

“Oh, God, please, you look like you’re in a shroud,” I said. “Off!”

“Well, you’re certainly not out to sell anything,” she replied.

I brought forth a pink suit whose deep, saturated color I could tell intrigued but also unsettled her.

“Whose is it?” she asked.

“It looks like an old Saint Laurent jacket,” I said, then told her the name on the label.

“What size is this?” she asked while pulling up the skirt.

“It doesn’t matter.”

She twirled in front of the mirror. “This looks like me but more festive, me but in a wilder color!” she said.

You but happier, I thought.

“It’s good for the luncheon regardless of weather. It could be cold, or we could have a heat wave,” I offered.

“Could I wear black pearls?” she asked.

“Beautiful,” I replied.

Success emboldened my client. She truly was starting to feel good and relaxed, which is not easy in this city or this life.

“You know that flowered dress you sold me last year?” she said. “Everybody loves me in that dress. You can throw it in a shopping bag, and out it comes crisp and ready to wear. I get so many compliments whenever I put it on.”

Hearing that always makes me feel good. Now, with the luncheon dress a reality, it was on to the vacation problems, but first I added a few structured shirts I thought were to her taste, including an oxford-cloth point-collar shirt with long sleeves.

“I’m wavering,” she said, looking at herself in it.

“Don’t. You have to like it instantly. Nothing gets better the more times you look in the mirror. I agree—it looks like your husband’s pajama top. Off!”

The next was a paisley-and-geometric-pattern silk blouse.

“This I love.”

“You are now in a different ballpark. That’s très élégante.”

The designer I had pulled the blouse from was very popular this season. Still, I didn’t like the entire collection. I never do; I glean individual pieces from many collections.

“The paisley pattern is vintage,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“I know because I’m old. I remember the original.”

“What would you wear with it?”

“Black pants.”

“Tucked in or out?”

“Both.”

I placed the silk blouse beside the suit, which was separate from the blue cashmere jacket that I would most likely talk her out of in the end. The definite noes that I hung outside the fitting room had already been spirited away by Emily, my assistant.

We disagreed over a blue-and-white cotton trapeze shirt.

“You have to take this off,” I begged.

“But I think it’s cute.”

“No, no. Children will talk behind their hands about you.”

“Does it come smaller?”

I threw my hands up in the air. “It probably does,” I said, turning to Helen, the fitter who had just arrived with her pins and scissors in a clear plastic Birkin-style bag. “Please take up the cuff on the blouse while I look for this terrible blouse.”

I zipped to the department where I had found the blouse in the first place, and wouldn’t you know my luck? In a store with very few sizes, of course they had it in a size smaller.

“Here’s your favorite blouse,” I said when I returned.

“I know I’ll wear it.”

“Well, it’s cotton at least. This is the easy part for you. We haven’t gotten into the nitty-gritty part of the fitting.”

That meant pants. After my client squirmed through a pair of ill-fitting capris and stretch pants that made her feel like her “granddaughter,” she started asking for her security blanket. “Any Chanel jackets floating around?” she asked demurely. It might have been an exorbitantly priced blanket, but a blanket it was nonetheless. A cloak behind which to disappear. She has so many of them she could have filled a warehouse.

“You have enough Chanel jackets,” I said.

“It’s been a couple of seasons. I’m going through withdrawal.”

Is the customer always right? Not in this case, but still I went back down to the second floor and gagged as I pulled a Chanel bouclé jacket in red, white, and blue with silver buttons.

“It fits me perfectly,” she said.

“Do you really want to look like this?” She was not going to make such an insecure and costly purchase on my watch.

“I guess not.”

I rushed the jacket out of the fitting room before she could reverse herself again and used the moment of confrontation to push her boundaries all the way, revealing the palazzo pants. She paled and shook her head no.

“Just for the fun of it, try them. It’s an experiment.”

After years of our working together, she knew I wasn’t going to take no for answer. She slowly picked up the black silk pants as if they were slimy. But as she buttoned them and found the courage to raise her head to the mirror, I saw the light go on.

“These are adorable! And comfortable!”

She loved herself in them. It was as plain as day. But she wanted to know what to wear with them. While all they needed was a casual white shirt (Brooks Brothers makes the best non-iron in cotton—the collars stay crisp), I couldn’t send her home without a complete outfit. If I didn’t find the missing piece of 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 left her swishing around happily in her palazzo pants and went through the third floor yet again. Perhaps I had missed something. I passed a fashion victim in a short black minidress with pink polka dots and a ruffled skirt, carrying a big tote emblazoned with a designer logo. Too many people wear a label rather than what is becoming. I grabbed a slouchy sweater out of desperation.

Back in the dressing room, the neck of the sweater was too high and made my client’s bosom look matronly, which turned her divine pants into clown pants. I got the sweater off before she had a chance to get a complex from looking in the mirror and was off again, but not before Emily stopped me: A young designer was on the phone.

“I need vodka,” said the brilliant designer of true one-of-a-kind clothing, who was in the middle of a trunk show for the store. I recently put one of my clients into an exquisite three-quarter-length coat of his with crystals he affixed to the front but not the back. Why? Who knows? The inconsistency is what I love.

I had to let him down—no vodka in my office, although I do understand how this business can drive you to drink.

Into the elevator and up to five, I revisited a collection that I like because of its chic, clean lines and the fact that it’s made in America, which is extremely important to me (I try to sell it every chance I can). But the fit is not easy; all the clothes run very small. That would not do for the woman patiently waiting.

I went up and down the escalators and in and out of the fitting room until I could not contemplate those palazzo pants for another minute (I, too, have my limits). I had to send my forlorn client home without the pants but told her not to worry: I, who do not know the meaning of the word “satisfaction,” never give up. I would hold on to them and, rest assured, find something that would suit her perfectly. Another day, another time, I would try again and see things differently. I find that once I have cleared my head, I’m game for a new beginning. I am like the doctor: You confide in him, he diagnoses you, and then, when your time is up, he’s on to the next case! Over the years I have learned how to turn away from the patient and move on. There is a cutoff period to my involvement, but with me at least one gets an hour or two.

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