In my mind, Lilly Pulitzer is synonymous with two things: summer and sororities. As a born and bred New York, I have a tendency to rebuff all things that aren’t black. However, as someone who has spend the majority of my summers in the Hamptons (or the island of Ralph Lauren and Tory Birch), I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for her preppy prints which have the power of evoking that early-summer sunny disposition… even in the midst of a rainstorm.
Sadly, the world lost a piece of that lit-from within personality when Pulitzer passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 81. Her story has been rehashed many times, but it’s non-the-less impressive considering her unique initiation into the industry and the lasting legacy she is sure to leave.
Born to a wealthy family on Long Island, Pulitzer grew up with some of America’s most prominent future socialites including the likes of Jackie Kennedy and C.Z. Guest (Jackie was the first to bring Pulitzer’s clothes into the public eye when she donned a signature Lily print for a spread featuring the first-family published in LIFE magazine.) Pulitzer went on to marry Peter Pulitzer (of those Pulitzers) in ’52 whom she settled with in Palm Beach and went on to have three kids with before they were divorced in ’69. Somewhere along the way, Lilly dealt with bouts of depression, which her doctor attributed to her lack of purpose as a stay at home mom. After spending time in a mental institution, Pulitzer tried to deal with her illness by finding new ways to occupy her time.
Her quest for fulfillment led her to take over a juice stand in Palm Beach, FL. What started as a fun hobby for the wealthy wife of a citrus farm owner turned into a lucrative career path. In attempts of concealing a few of the many stains she acquired on the job, Pulitzer started having her own dresses made with specially printed fabrics that were loud enough to make any accidental splashing appear as if it have been a part of the fabric.
Her whimsical prints and beachy aesthetic have since inspired thousands of women to dance barefoot in the sand. That famous motto of hers, “life’s a party, dress like it!” goes hand in hand with her carefree lifestyle that she was able to share with anyone who walked into one of her stores or bought one of her dresses. Although at some point her company (in my mind at least) took a wrong turn and proceeded down the southern university town rout (one of the most common look for a girl at my North Carolina high school, for example, was a Lilly Pulitzer skirt, a Michael Stars top, one or two strands of pearls, and tan boat shoes. #notchictothenextlev). When done right, however, a Lilly dress has the same potential allure as do thoughts of summer vacation. When a woman buys a Lilly dress, it’s not the garment she’s after- it’s the Lily Pulitzer way of life.