WELCOME TO "PALM BITCH," DOLLS: It’s Always Summer Somewhere

Lilly Pulitzer was a wealthy socialite in 1960s Palm Beach when she started making dresses both to relieve boredom and to solve a problem: Her good clothes were always getting ruined by fruit juice stains.
Publish date:
May 29, 2012
dresses, shoppables, vintage, fashion, fun, prints, 1960s, summer

The WASP-y winter home of the rich and famous, Palm Beach, Florida, spawned one of my very favorite things in the world: The Lilly Pulitzer cotton shift dress.

One of my favorite pictures, from "A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style"

This simple, colorful garment, which helped usher in the concept of "resort wear," was originally made from kitchen curtain fabric. Take that, Scarlett O’Hara!

Lilly Pulitzer was a wealthy socialite in 1960s Palm Beach when she started making dresses both to relieve boredom and to solve a problem: Her good clothes were always getting ruined by fruit juice stains. (Lilly's original business venture was running a fresh fruit juice stand on the Via Mizner.)

She ended up having a local seamstress make her a simple garment in brightly colored fabric that hid stains, and that she could easily wear in the scorching Florida summer.

Fashion is dumb and pointless most of the time, so I love it when form follows function. People started digging what Lilly was wearing so she began casually selling them at her fruit stand, and an empire was born.

Lilly originally sold her dresses at the fruit stand for $22.50!

Once Lilly became a big deal, the moneyed 60s Florida honeys started buying their "Lillys" from her fancy Worth Avenue shop and paired them with Gobstopper-sized gems and tasteful jeweled sandals.

As a misfit teen in Texas, I scored my Lillys at thrift stores and wore them with dirty Vans sneakers and tattoos.

My dream collab: Lilly P+Vans

I wore lots of vintage Lilly Pulitzer dresses in high school. My classmates thought I was nuts. I think I originally started wearing them just to be weird, but I honestly can't remember. I like wearing clothes that make me happy, and who could be un-happy while wearing Lilly's electrifying prints? Wearing a Lilly is like living in a little manicured time bubble.

A sampling of Lilly Pulitzer prints. There have been hundreds of them over the years.

Lilly dresses are lined with cotton muslin fabric, because Lilly herself never liked wearing underwear in the Florida heat. Those of you who live in humid climates are totally picking up what Lilly’s puttin’ down. Go ahead, aim that air conditioning vent at your crotch while you drive, nobody can see you!

Lilly Pulitzer closed for business in the 1980s but reopened in the mid-90s. Lilly herself is alive and well, still living in glamorous Palm Beach. She has very wisely re-introduced her "Vintage Originals," all based on the exact shift dresses she made way back in 1960. They are the definition of genius simplicity. Even Jackie Kennedy wore them:

Lilly has said that she charged Jackie $25 .00 for her Lilly instead of the usual $22.50, as "that was very expensive curtain fabric!"

A shift dress flatters every figure, and is probably the most comfortable garment you could put on. I am partial to ones with pockets, as I believe all dresses should have pockets. I might actually run for some sort of office on the ‘dresses with pockets’ platform. Here is some stuff I love from the summer 2012 Lilly collection:

Lilly Pulitzer 'Delia' dress, $178.00

Lilly Pulitzer 'Ricci' shift in 'Fresh Cut' print, $188.00.

Lilly Pulitzer 'Marie Kate' dress, $378.00.

Lilly Pulitzer 'Ricci Shift' in 'State of Mind' print, $188.00.

Lilly Pulitzer 'Allura' dress in 'Spring Fever Toile', $228.00

These dresses are styled so perfectly and sweetly here, but you can mash them up in any way that suits your personal style. The Lilly shift paired with combat boots and a leather jacket or Converse and spiked bracelets are some of my favorite looks.

The dots on that yellow dress in the top right corner glow in the dark! Lilly Pulitzer is secretly very subversive.

When you wear a Lilly dress, you really don't need a ton of jewelry or other accessories, as the pattern is doing half the work for you. But I like to wear mine with some tough, tacky, scenery-chewing jewelry.

Probably not how Lilly intended them to be worn, but whatever. Do whatcha like with your clothes.

I also wear my Lillys in the winter with tights and boots and a cardigan. I don't actually own any cold weather clothes, I just winterize my summer stuff.

The Lilly shift is a little bit like the Sassy pillowcase dress. After all, a shift dress is just two side seams, two darts, and three holes (head and arms). It’s pretty easy to make your own-and some of you will have to, since Lilly doesn't make plus sizes, which is a bummer. You can use any brightly patterned cotton fabric, or splurge on some "real" Lilly designs.

Talking about Lilly reminds me to suggest an excellent fashion read -- Palm Beach-born Amanda Brooks’ "I heart your style: How to define and refine your personal style." It is exceedingly entertaining, informative and well researched. I refer to it sometimes when I hate everything in my closet. It always inspires me to put together my existing clothes in a new way.

WAIT! I totally glossed over the most important question that this post raised: Do you go without underwear in the dog days of summer? I think Lilly had the right idea.