The Happy Sunny Allure of Lilly Pulitzer Clothing

I grew up in the land of pink and green preppies in northern Delaware, home to Lilly Pulitzer fans by the thousands. Who didn’t covet the bold and bright colored print dresses for the annual spring break vacation? There seemed to be nothing cooler than Lilly Pulitzer style. The only problem was, my mother wasn’t on board with the look.

A spring Lilly Pulitzer look from Wilmington Country Store

A spring Lilly Pulitzer look from Wilmington Country Store

This left me odd girl out when the prized Lilly Pulitzer line hit the stores each spring. Locally, the collection sold in a bastion of preppy style, The Wilmington Country Store. An awe-inspiring, vaulted space with dark, wide planked wood floors and stacks of neatly folded Shetland sweaters (with monograms), it spoke of endless possibility. Not for me, though, the sunny cotton prints that conjured up images of bare feet and flat sandals and walks along a sandy beach.

I’d visit the store with my mother (to shop for other things) and casually run my fingers along the rows of vibrantly-colored cotton dresses and skirts. Eyes half-closed, I’d picture myself in one of the happy prints, engaged in cheery conversation with my equally floral-clad pals. The world of Lilly Pulitzer seemed to promise all that: sun and happiness and fun times by the pool.

The actual Lilly Pulitzer was born Lillian Lee McKim in November 1931. The daughter of prominent socialites, she grew up in luxury, attending private school in New York and later graduating from Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. She began college-finishing school at Finch College in New York City, but left after a semester to volunteer as a midwife assistant with Frontier Nursing in Kentucky.

After eloping in 1950 with the grandson of publishing magnate, Joseph Pulitzer, Pulitzer settled in sunny Palm Beach with her new husband, Peter, who owned several Florida orange groves. The story goes that while working at a juice stand she opened on Worth Avenue, Pulitzer found she frequently spilled juice on her clothes. To hide the stains, she came up with a colorful and spill-proof dress, a boldly printed sleeveless shift with slits on the sides. When she began wearing her creation to work, customers forgot about the juice and began ordering the dress. A career was born.

Palm Beach/Shutterstock

Palm Beach/Shutterstock

Said Pulitzer,

“I didn’t set out to be anything unusual or different. I just wanted to do things my way.”

Eventually Pulitzer left the juice business to focus on her own brand of clothing, which she named “Lillys.” The original company, with the name Lily Pulitzer, Inc, was formed in 1952 and headquartered in Miami, Florida. Heavily influenced by the sunny and carefree Palm Beach lifestyle, the company is widely credited for having created a new genre of fashion, American Resort Wear.

Vibrantly colored and individualistic, the Lilly Pulitzer collections inspired women to embrace color and pattern in a way they had never done before. While remaining popular for decades in places like northern Delaware, the clothes eventually fell out of fashion for a time. The line was revived in 1993 with an infusion of new designs and patterns by Sugartown Worldwide, Inc. Pulitzer died in 2013 at the age of 81.

Who can explain the Lilly Pulitzer frenzy that continues today? Maybe the world just likes to feel sunny and happy. Sunday’s introduction of the company’s first collaboration with Target sold out in minutes. The 250-piece collection includes such prints as boom boom (bold green ferns on white), see ya later ( a pink print with seashore motifs) and of course, the iconic pink and green bullseye and fan dance patterns; so reminiscent of my childhood.  I might just head to Target today to pick up my own little piece of happiness.


Quote source: Lilly Pulitzer website

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About carole funger

I'm a garden designer and Maryland Master Gardener living in the Washington, DC area. I blog about new trends in horticulture, inspiring gardens to visit and the latest tips and ideas for how to nurture your own beautiful garden. Every garden tells a story. What's yours?

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