April 25, 2013


Part 1 of 2

Jungle Lilly

The late Lilly Pulitzer, who loathed personal publicity as only the blessedly bred and really, really rich were raised to do, died world famous. She was a superstar. Having one’s obituary on page one of the New York Times will tell you that.

Wendy Vanderbilt and a friend in Lilly Pulitzer frocks, 1964.

Lilly smoldering in Palm Beach in 1961.
Photo by Slim Aarons

The beautiful Mr. and Mrs. Peter Pulitzer circa 1955.
Photo by Slim Aarons

One day in the late 1950’s, being young, good-looking and bored, Lilly decided to occupy herself by selling orange juice. To mask the resulting pesky citrus stains, she had a dress run up, basically in the shape of a pillowcase, with holes cut in it. She made it in printed fabric that was more commonly seen on toddlers, and “zingo”  (to quote Lilly), grown adults clamored to wear one too! She ended up defining an image and a look forever.

Of course it helped that Lilly was lovely, married to a publishing heir (and owner of those acres and acres of citrus groves), lived in Palm Beach, and had arranged to be a Miss Porter’s classmate of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis – who also clamored for and wore (as did Rose and the other Kennedy girls) those crazy comfortable little nothing dresses.

“I mean everybody, they had to have them. Whether they fit or not, who cared? Just get one. I want it, I have to wear it to dinner!” remembered Lilly.

The family that Lilly’s together . . .

Kathleen and Rose Kennedy in the same shift.
         Photo: PR News Foto via AP

Lilly leaps from Peter’s plane with armloads of fanciful fabric.

A buttoned up Mrs. Kennedy, nevertheless in Lilly.

Jackie lounging in a “Lilly” at the Agnelli villa in Ravello, Italy.

Jackie in Lilly at Hyannis Port – 1962.

Photo by Cecil Stoughton/The White House

These simple shift dresses were referred to, by those in the know, as simply:  “Lilly’s”. They originally sold for $22 and they were the newest symbol of old money. And soon, the whimsical and whacky patterns and kaleidoscopic colors made their way onto men’s clothes, children’s wear, accessories, shoes, stationery, bedding and bridal. There is even a Lilly Barbie and a Lilly Jeep.

An early Lilly Pulitzer advertisement for her Palm Beach boutique.

Lilly on wheels.

Being seen in a “Lilly” anything, be it man, woman, child, or dog, became a sure sign of membership in a very exclusive club.

Nothing but Lilly on a pack of Palm Beach swells in 1964.

So when we see someone walking down the boulevard donning clothes in clearly clashing colors, prints normally reserved for pj’s, and fitting in a way that is, at best, described as peculiar - we can thank Ms. Pulitzer for creating a uniform for the initiated. As the New York Times said on that front page, Lilly made clothes for the “few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste.” Now we will always know how to tell.

Thanks Lilly.
  We love you.  

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