Few society figures remain as iconic as Betsy Bloomingdale. A true emblem of glamor and style, she epitomized the confidence of a post-war United States: a moment in history in which the sun-soaked terraces and candle-lit tables of Southern California captured the world’s imagination. Forever draped in haute couture, jewels, and an irresistible smile, Betsy Bloomingdale was a woman defined by exuberant, joyful elegance.
Born in Beverly Hills in 1922, Betty Lee Newling was raised against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Her discerning eye was “informed by Hollywood,” noted friend Alex Hitz, “when Hollywood was a beacon of style.” From a young age, the collector learned the hallmarks of good taste in the California fashion: a combination of intuition, confidence, and compassion that reached beyond wealth and background to transform acquaintances such as Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart into international stars. “Style,” Mrs. Bloomingdale often remarked in later years. “Everyone has it, anyone can get it.”
In 1946, Betsy Bloomingdale married department store heir and future Diners Club chairman Alfred S. Bloomingdale, the “father of the credit card” with whom she would have three children. Throughout the latter decades of the twentieth century, the Bloomingdales came to stand as influential figures in business, politics, culture, and fashion. With homes in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, they inhabited the world of the newly inaugurated jet set. Amongst their inner circle, the Bloomingdales counted some of America’s most notable families: names such as Kempner, Kissinger, Buckley, Forbes, Paley, Annenberg and, most famously, Reagan. A legendary hostess who entertained in couture and Harry Winston jewels, Mrs. Bloomingdale embodied the intelligence and verve of a new generation of American women: “a remarkable assemblage of… socialites, heiresses, political power players, patronesses, and benefactors,” wrote Vanity Fair’s Rachel Tashjian, “who molded an indelible image of what it meant to be glamorous and regal in a country that eschews aristocracy.”
It was Betsy Bloomingdale’s high-spirited spontaneity—whether dancing the ‘Twist’ with Chubby Checker or having lunch at Warhol’s Factory—that endeared her to the world. Mrs. Bloomingdale wore her joie de vivre quite literally on her sleeve, as she acquired glittering jewels and Parisian haute couture. Named to the International Best Dressed List in 1970 and its Hall of Fame in 2009, Mrs. Bloomingdale lived during a time in which the “usual thing,” in her description, “was two daytime things and two nighttime things.” The collector left careful instructions with each gown in her wardrobe, noting where it had last been worn and with which jewels. “It was a special world in a special time,” she said of her years in fashion patronage. “And I was very lucky.” A little over a year before her death in 2016, Mrs. Bloomingdale appeared on the red carpet of the Vanity Fair Oscars Party, dressed in a vibrant Dior gown from her personal archives. “As always,” Vanity Fair noted, “she was grinning, and she looked perfect.”
BETSY BLOOMINGDALE: A LIFE IN STYLE