After reading the New York Times‘ recent “Critical Shopper” piece on Lilly Pulitzer, it occurred to me that unless you were raised in a privileged household on the Eastern seaboard and use “summering” as a verb, as a 20- or 30-something woman who grew up in the grunge generation, you might not be too familiar with Pulitzer’s maniacally colorful prints. As someone who wears black most of the time, I hadn’t really thought much of the brand myself. A few months back I did go on a market appointment to a Lilly Pulitzer showroom, though, and I left feeling a bit intrigued by the whole “lifestyle.”To gain some historical perspective, let’s consider Lilly’s background. A Standard Oil heiress who married well (to some Pulitzer guy who had something to do with publishing–ring a bell?), she attended the famous Miss Porter’s boarding school in Connecticut with classmate and friend Jacqueline Bouvier. Her business started on what sounds like a bit of a lark: She set up an orange juice stand in Palm Beach–probably to amuse herself and move some of the merch her family’s orchards provided–and sold colorful smocks made to conceal juice stains alongside the fruit. When Jackie wore one of her items in a Life magazine spread, demand skyrocketed. Today, the line consists of a lot more than aprons. There’s not just frilly dresses and men’s jackets, but also children’s clothes and bags and shoes, a makeup line, home goods like bedding and cocktail shakers, and even a rather frightening Lilly/Jeep collaboration that may or may not be official.
The signature style is easy, breezy, and floral. They’re clothes literally made to “summer” in. Simple and fresh for a morning bike ride or an afternoon sail, formal enough to transition into lobster dinner with family friends. The splashy prints make the dresses extra popular with the wealthy tween set, but apparently there are vintage dresses for sale at the Manhattan store, and that’s something we could be interested in. (You can also shop her store online, and there are plenty of groovy items on eBay, too.) Personally, I won’t be rocking such loud colors on a regular basis, but a vintage Lilly shift dress or a silky scarf? That could be a worthwhile–and fun–fashion investment.