(Note: I am currently writing this in a giant beige wool sweater with mutton sleeves from the eighties. Thanks, Mom!)
My maternal grandmother is an icon. MaryCarol was a powerhouse of color, style, and cigarettes. To me, she embodied the last great women who dressed extravagantly well.
Which is why, when I spotted Betty Halbreich’s memoir, “I’ll Drink to That,” sitting on a shelf at my local library, I was instantly attracted. From a coddled upbringing on Chicago’s South Side to a devastating end to a terrible marriage, I loved Halbreich’s wit throughout the book. She pushes the story along with a dry humor and bluntness that is at once amusing and jolting.
Above all, though, I appreciate Halbreich’s love of luxury and of life. A self-proclaimed “child” throughout her twenties and thirties, in her first and only marriage, she’s gently comes into her own as an independent woman post-separation, relying on what would become an iconic job at Bergdorf Goodman’s department store to get her through the day.
It sounds shallow; I can see some of you rolling your eyes as you read this. And perhaps it is. But I know this: every single woman has a piece of clothing in her closet that makes her feel gloriously beautiful. It could be a pair of jeans, a shirt, a dress, or a hat. Halbreich celebrates that fact.
She reminds me of my grandmother in some ways, who was always swathed in some kind of pastel, with pants that sat much too high on her waist, always with a belt. MaryCarol smelled like a combination of cigarettes, oil pastels, and Coco Mademoiselle perfume. She was a florist, an artist, a wife and a mother. She was dynamic. I still look up to her long after her death.
This memoir, if you love clothes, comeback stories, powerful women, dry wit, or simply interesting anecdotes about famous people, is a phenomenal read. I finished it in two days flat. Perhaps the occupation with dressing well is something few people will understand, but the heart of the book, about finding your purpose through self-exploration and serving others, is broadly applicable. If you’re looking for a new read, I highly recommend this book.