April 8, 2013

Lilly Pulitzer dresses were "really wearable only by the few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste."

Says the NYT in the obituary for Lilly Pullitzer, who built a "fashion empire" out of "tropical print shift dresses and lighthearted embrace of jarring color combinations like flamingo pink and apple green." Lilly was born into wealth and married into more wealth. She had 3 children and a nervous breakdown.
“I went crazy. I was a namby-pamby; people always made decisions for me. The doctor said I should find something to do.”
The family estate included citrus groves, so she opened a juice stand with another woman, and juice stains inspired the print dresses.
At first, her dresses were seen almost exclusively in Palm Beach circles, and then globally when her wealthy friends began appearing in the designs in magazines. Jacqueline Kennedy, a classmate from Miss Porter’s, wore a Pulitzer dress while on vacation: “It was made from kitchen curtain material and people went crazy,” Ms. Pulitzer said. “They took off like Zingo.”
Zingo? The (unlinkable) OED defines "zingo" as an interjection that means the same thing as "zing." Historical examples:
1914   Sat. Evening Post 17 Jan. 7/1   Just when he was bursting with happiness because he was going to be a real big leaguer and one of us—zingo! he was back where he started.
1941   B. Schulberg What makes Sammy Run? ii. 32   It didn't take nearly this long to think. It went zingo, just a look....
There's a word that I never noticed was a word. But how about these dresses?
“Puritan ethics of balance and value,” as Laura Jacobs wrote in a Vanity Fair profile of Ms. Pulitzer in 2003. They were accessible to most, but really wearable only by the few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste. A minidress of green peacocks dancing with merry seashells is not for just anyone.
Here. You can access this but can you wear it? Do you know the difference?

24 comments:

Mitchell the Bat said...

Roger Ebert had a closet full of Lilly Pulitzer dresses.

Nonapod said...

They were accessible to most, but really wearable only by the few who were so rich that they could afford to have bad taste.

I wasn't aware that irony was so expensive.

edutcher said...

Sounds like the Gray Lady's target audience. The fact she was buds with Jackie clearly helped.

And I love the line, "She meticulously avoided personal publicity, as was once common to people of bottomless wealth". She was of Punch's world and that line is so Pinch.

PS The couple of dresses they show don't look that bad.

Salamandyr said...

So that's who to blame.

LuAnn Zieman said...

I would've worn the dress the model is wearing. Not now, but that's because I no longer wear sleeveless anything--not since my arms went south.

Mitch H. said...

I'm fond of Hawaiian shirts, the more garish the better, and even I have to say some of those are over the top. Like my late grandmother's living room drapes given second life in the bursting closets of the ironic socialite.

Bob R said...

Yikes! One click and now I've got a bunch of blogs with Lilly Pulitzer ads. I have to do some guitar shopping so I get better looking ads.

Palladian said...

Is there a racist subtext to the equation of tropical prints in bright colors with bad taste?

Shanna said...

They are cheerful, kind of throw back prints but no uglier than the couch cushions stuff Michelle Obama favors.

Mitch H. said...

If so, Palladian, what ethnicity is being targeted? I mean, other than "not WASP", which would be ironic in that Lilly Pulitzer seems to be ur-WASPish.

Inga said...

I like the Pulitzer prints, bright, light, tropical. I was a bit young to wear them during her heyday, but the bright floral prints and paisleys we wore in the late 60's were equally loud. I wear some prints now, but they can't make my butt look like a billboard.

ad hoc said...

There are several small Lilly Pulitzer stores in south FL. Some of the prints, obviously not all, are more subtle. Her clothes are bright and tropical but they don't look out of place in FL. I've never seen them farther north (I haven't really looked either).

David said...

"Does this money make me look fat?"

CatherineM said...

I love the Pulitzer prints. I would wear them to casual "beach" dinners in the summer. They are beach/resort wear for hot weather or tropical climates.

Palladian said...

If so, Palladian, what ethnicity is being targeted?

Don't get all logical while I'm Alinskying the New York Times!

Michael said...

Pulitzer herself noted that her line of clothes were meant to be a reflection of a happy lifestyle, a way of living that emphasized a joy at being alive and living in the times and places we have been fortunate enough to live. This is a highly unappealing thought to the writers and readers of the NYT who believe that happiness is a marker of the bourgeoisie's lack of introspection which would reveal an emptiness and vacuity that only a reader or writer of the NYT could use to professional and emotional advantage. Happiness is bad taste to the readers and writers of the NYT and of many people who inhabit the progressive environs.

traditionalguy said...

I remember those dresses as Resort wear sold at the expensive beach resort gift shops. You had to go there to find them.

Sam L. said...

Care, I do not.

Kelly said...

She had a nervous break-down. I find nervous break-downs fascinating. Why did so many woman have them back in the day, but not now? My own mother had a "nervous break-down". I remember being about four and visiting her in the hospital. I found out later the nervous breakdown was actually an addiction to sedatives. Nervous break-down sounds classier I guess.

ampersand said...

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand."

I never heard of this woman,but from the article, Its net sales in 2012 were $122.6 million
Either the dresses are extremely expensive,or rich women are hoarding roomfuls ,or the customer base is a lot bigger than implied.

BTW many years ago I saw a Brooks Brothers catalog, they had a section for fairly expensive casual pants for men.
The pair I remember was a crimson red with yellow ducks embroided on them. A google search yields the following, Go to hell pants

Amy Cartwright said...

My girls (25 & 27) and I have recently rediscovered Lilly. I had a few of her things in the late 70's - wish I had hung on to them - so do my girls! We were just in the Tysons Lilly store yesterday. Very pretty things.

Lem said...

Is there a racist subtext to the equation of tropical prints in bright colors with bad taste?

The "prejudice" if you could call it that, that I see, is not so much the kind of prints and bright color she chose, but that its possible she could have chosen anything... anything... and it would still have made a good impression on the eyes of the people that saw it.

Tari said...

Hogwash. Her stuff wasn't that expensive, you just had to have some guts to wear it. Of course, being built like a stick didn't hurt, either.

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