Lilly Pulitzer: The Woman Who Changed Fashion And Challenged Society

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Have you ever found yourself completely devoted to a brand?

When I was 12, my mother gave me a hand-me-down. The dress was blue with white and green flowers; she had owned it since the early 80s, and it was still in fabulous condition. It zipped; I twirled for my mother, and she said, “Oh, how I love you in a Lilly dress.” Since then, the Lilly Pulitzer brand has permeated my life; I graduated college in a Lilly dress, I used a Lilly dress to inspire my own weight loss, and have gotten Lilly gifts almost every birthday and holiday since. Many who know me well associate my sundresses with Lilly Pulitzer. Because of the brand’s constant presence in my life, I was deeply saddened to find out that Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau passed away yesterday.

In almost every commemoration that has been posted about Lilly, they have detailed the long-famed story of her juice stand, the stain splotches that led to her colorful prints, and her rise as an iconic designer. I get something different out of Lilly Pulitzer’s story. I see the story of a woman who maintained a conservative modesty while challenging and changing the rules of fashion, a rule-breaker, a role model.

Consider this: Lilly Pulitzer, then Lilly McKim, eloped when she was 21 to marry Peter Pulitzer Jr. She started her own thriving fashion business with poppy beach colors at a time when the industry preferred humble hues and was so successful that the Palm Beach style is nearly equated to her name. She, after having three children, divorced her husband in 1969, then remarried.

During a time when the role of women was in global debate, Lilly Pulitzer challenged the status quo while building herself a fashion empire. She was a risk taker, and her leaps of faith paid off.

While Lilly Pulitzer was not directly involved with making the designs anymore when she passed, her influence can be seen in many of the prints currently available. You can even find her signature hidden in every print. Lilly Pulitzer continues to live on, both in her namesake and in the generations of designers inspired by her work.

“That’s what life is all about: Let’s have a party. Let’s have it tonight.” — Lilly Pulitzer