When I read Lilly Pulitzer’s obit last week, I was saddened by her passing but pleased to see that she was described as exactly the kind of person I imagined her to be: preppy without being uptight, like the fun private school mom who slathers kids with sunscreen, then lets them drink gin & tonics at her enormous beach house. I’ve always been a sucker for textiles with colors and designs that are so garish and ugly they cross over and become fascinating. When I spotted my first Lilly P shift at a vintage shoppe in high school, retina-burning as it was with its pattern of neon flowers and vegetables, I knew: it was love.
Aside from the bright colors and cartoonish graphics, most Lilly P fabrics also have one of my other favorite qualities, which is: not being synthetic. A good summer frock, especially one designed by a high society broad who loved cocktails and hosting parties barefoot, is never made out of polyester, a textile I’d like to think Lilly felt was suited only for nightclub napkins and the maid’s umbrella. Her prints are bright and happy, so they should be able to breathe should somebody push you into the pool (of if you fall in yourself after one pre-tennis scotch too many).
Unfortunately, the notoriety of her brand makes her vintage items expensive. There are active collectors out there who snap up anything with a Lilly P label, so her stuff is easier to find at vintage boutiques than at thrift, and it’s priced accordingly. On the other hand, her brand was so ubiquitous (and is still available at your classier boutiques, department stores, and, at least in my imagination, country club vending machines in the Hamptons or Nantucket) that the supply keeps prices from getting too crazy, at least after the post-death price bump subsides.
Like always, dresses with fabrics and cuts like hers do risk looking dated. But because her style is so unique to her, her dresses aren’t costumes: they’re just Lilly P. So RIP Lilly, because you may have left us, but your spirit and style lives in your clothes (and in my closet).