I still remember the first time I saw a Lilly Pulitzer print. I was on Nantucket, and I couldn’t understand why seemingly every woman (and more than a few men, babies, and dogs) were parading around town in a sea of fluorescent cotton garments. Elephants in palm trees! Monkeys in martini glasses! Flamingos!! “This is attractive?” I questioned.
What I didn’t realize was that “attractiveness” -- in the classical sense -- was irrelevant.
Lilly Pulitzer died on April 7. Pulitzer, beloved by the preppy set and best known for her stand-out prints, was an icon for capturing a particular mood and lifestyle and letting others participate in that aspirational life through her brand. She said, “Style isn’t just about what you wear, it’s about how you live.” Her style was focused on bright colors in tropical prints, emphasizing the “vacation lifestyle.” And these bold “look at me!” clothes -- love them or hate them -- are more than mere coverings. They are the material embodiment of an idyllic, sunny Florida vacation and a life of leisure.
Proving that they’re more about lifestyle than traditional fashion, the Lilly Pulitzer prints have been applied to objects and merchandise that go far beyond clothing: she’s a favorite on the sorority circuit, as evidenced by this Alpha Xi Delta white board. For a period, her prints were featured on objects of leisure, like golf carts (pictured above) and surfboards. Steinway once offered a limited edition piano with her print, and one Lilly Pulitzer store even had a custom-printed Lilly Jeep outside.
The history of prints representing ideals and lifestyles is nothing new to Ms. Pulitzer. Argyle has long been associated with golf attire, and a ‘preppy’ lifestyle. Tartan traditionally represented a distinct heritage, and historically within Scotland, different tartans were worn by specific clans and could be used to identify one clan from another. Over the years, plaid has been reinvented and re-associated with anti-establishment counterculture movements like punk, and it’s a staple of the grunge punk movement that began in the 1990s. To the other extreme, plaid has also been used to demonstrate wealth and status, as witnessed in the famous (and frequently knocked-off) Burberry print.
Just as plaid is emblematic of several groups and lifestyles, the mantra “It’s always summer somewhere” identified Pulitzer’s brand and life philosophy, and connected her loyal devotees, if only in mindset. So whether you’re wearing a flamingo scarf or tartan bondage pants, you’re communicating an “I’m with them” (and an “I’m NOT with them”) identity. Just how “attractive” either are matters very little.
Want to embrace a lifestyle look? Here are 3 very different options -- go all in and commit head-to-toe, or mix and match to embrace the best of all worlds:
Interested in the preppy, golf-inspired look that’s still fresh and modern? NY-based Fairway Fox blends athletic performance fabrics with runway-inspired looks, to put a chic twist on golf style. Check out this 60’s inspired dress.
What Lilly Pulitzer is to prepsters, Jeremy Scott is to hipsters. Like Pulitzer, Scott also embraces bright and bold patterns, but his prints show off a very different lifestyle than the vacation-centric Lilly Pulitzer. He re-appropriates bourgeois prints into hipster staples.
- Want punk plaid without the piercings? Try a simple plaid button-up or some plaid tights -- small expressions of the rebellious lifestyle (without giving up your more conventional one).