It started with a juice stand in Palm Beach in 1959 and ended with a legacy of female empowerment.
Lilly Pulitzer, the fashion mogul who made summer year-round through her colorful prints, died Sunday. It’s difficult to mourn the loss of someone whose motto was “Live everyday like it’s a celebration and make every hour a happy hour.”
To honor her memory, I have awarded her the title of My Ideal Feminist.
Some may consider it impossible to wear Lilly and be a feminist — in fact, some may say it’s the epitome of anti-feminist, because of how flirty, colorful, and “girly” her clothing is. Of course you can’t be a feminist and wear a dress! You must wear pants and never be seen sporting the color pink! I beg to differ.
Although the Lilly story begins with a juice stand, it really began with a mental breakdown. Lillian Lee McKim eloped at the age of 21 to Peter Pulitzer. The couple moved to Palm Beach and had three children. Lilly was a 1950s housewife, becoming a prisoner in her own home. After the breakdown, her therapist suggested she take up a hobby — that hobby was the lemonade stand. To hide the fruit stains that splashed onto her dress, Lilly had a printed dress created, and alas, the clothing company began.
Her company skyrocketed when Jackie Kennedy and her daughter, Caroline, wore matching outfits on the cover of Life magazine. What is more empowering than having the First Lady wear your clothes?
Lilly herself was a feminist because she found empowerment through oppression. Although the word oppression is harsh , I believe it appropriately described how women were treated in the 1950s. Women were trapped inside their homes and spent their days cleaning, cooking and performing their “wifely” duties. I consider her to be one of the pioneers in women having their own career.
What inspires me to wear Lilly is knowing that the company resulted from the frustration of feeling limited. When I wear a shirt or dress with a vibrant print, it inspires me to live outside the box and to be confident in my everyday decisions.
If you were to tell me when I was younger that one day I would own a dress with little lipstick tubes all over it, I’d think you were crazy. I use to be the queen of neutral and solid colors. Although buying a dress might not be a huge deal, it represents the bigger idea that I can challenge myself in every way possible.
Not only does it inspire me, her prints make me happy. In fact, James Bradbeer Jr., one of the businessmen who bought her company, once told an industry interviewer that sales went up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks because “people wanted something happy.” Pretty powerful, right?
Rest in peace Lilly, I know you are up in heaven at the Pink Palace, lounging by the pool in a fabulous shift dress. Thank you for inspiring millions of women to push the limits in whatever we may undertake.