Queen of Palm Beach preppy, Lily Pulitzer passed away over the weekend at the age of 81. And because my country club upbringing involved lots and lots of Lily, the news made me nostalgic for the designer’s beachy prints.
Looking through old and new photos of the designer and the socialites who’ve loved them, led me to do some research on the designer herself. Turns out, Pulitzer was actually pretty cool, and I have a newfound appreciation for the woman who saw the world through pink-and-green lenses and built an empire based on how she thought life should be lived.
Given how her prints have come to symbolize a cookie-cutter conservative, Preppy rulebook-following crowd, I was surprised — no, shocked — to discover Pulitzer was quite the rebel.
The socialite refused to be boxed in by the rules of Manhattan society, or by Manhattan at all. Pulitzer eloped with her husband (adorably named Peter Pulitzer), and left NYC behind to start a juice stand in Palm Beach. She fell into designing by accident — after having colorful fabric made into dresses to hide the juice stains while she worked her stand.
Another little-known factoid about the legendary designer: She was schoolmates with Jacqueline Kennedy — and it was Jackie who shifted the Palm Beach rebel’s focus from juices to dresses, though accidentally. After Jackie was photographed wearing one of Lilly’s printed shifts, the designer’s dress line really took off.
A loyal Lilly lover, Jackie often wore her one-time classmate’s printed shifts during vacations.
Even if you’re still not digging her prints that have covered everything from shift dresses to shorts, bathing suits, pants, ties, bedding, surfboards, bridal gowns and more, you have to respect how the designer built an iconic brand around the idea that life should be a celebration.
The glass-half-full motto that would come to define the company pretty much says it all: “Life. Lilly. And the pursuit of happiness.”
While I don’t shop at Lilly Pulitzer anymore, the brand has introduced more modern styles that don’t scream “Lilly Pulitzer” or “beach party” that even non-prepsters would appreciate.
But I still think that a vintage Lilly shift dress circa the ’60s and ’70s remains the pinnacle of beach chic.