Remembering Lilly Pulitzer

Lilly Pulitzer

By Yasmin Darwish

Hundreds of friends and family gathered to honor Lilly Pulitzer during a memorial service this past Thursday – April 11, 2013. Despite the somber occasion many sported the cheery, colorful prints Lilly was known for instead of typical all black.

Funeral in honor of the talented Lilly Pulitzer.

Funeral in honor of the talented Lilly Pulitzer.

I’m sure this is how the designer would have preferred. She was vivacious and loved life, and she certainly made the best of hers. At her funeral Rev. Kate Kelderman, spoke very highly of Pulitzer, “She was not afraid of dying, because she wasn’t afraid of living.”

She was born Lillian Lee McKim in Roslyn, New York and lived a very good life. Her father was rich, her mother a Standard Oil heiress. Lilly dropped out of college and, on a 1952 holiday in Palm Beach, Florida, met her 1st husband Herbert “Peter” Pulitzer, an owner of hotels and citrus groves – and grandson of the publisher Joseph Pulitzer.

Peter Pulitzer & Lilly Pulitzer

Peter Pulitzer & Lilly Pulitzer



A bored Palm Beach socialite Lilly Pulitzer decided she wanted to work. She opened a juice stand in 1959 to pass the time and marketed gift boxes of Peter’s fruit. There was one issue- the citrus juices stained her clothes. She wanted to create a uniform that would camouflage the bright stains, and that is when the “Lilly” design came to life. Sleeveless cotton shifts in vibrant prints, the style was an instant hit with customers, they began placing more orders for dresses than juice.





Her clothing was worn by many well-known figures, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and daughter Caroline Kennedy to members of the Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families. Despite its success, Pulitzer shut down her clothing operation in 1984. Luckily for Lilly Pulitzer fans, this would not remain the case for long. Nine years later, Sugartown Worldwide, Inc. purchased the rights to the brand. Although Pulitzer was not involved in the business operations of the company after this point, she was heavily engaged in the creative side of things until her death, doing everything from approving new patterns to designing new dress styles.


lilly shift

lilly shift 2

lilly dress

The dresses then in 1959 sold for $22. Today, dresses are in the $100 to $300 range. The line since has expanded from women’s clothing to men’s and children’s, maternity wear, jewelry, bedding, and even stationery. Pulitzer was also an author of lifestyle books about entertaining and design. More recently, the company has created an entire sorority line, with prints for every major sorority house on campuses across America.

lilly men

lilly bedding a lilly mini me

In 2009, when the label celebrated its 50th anniversary, acclaimed fashion designer Michael Kors exclaimed, “A Lilly shift can work on everyone from age 7 to 70.” Her dresses truly suited women of different ages, body types, and backgrounds,  but  Adam Glassman, creative director of Oprah Magazine notes that there is one thing that ties them all together – the  “life’s a party” attitude. What Lilly Pulitzer did for fashion is more a story about what she did for women. She gave them a mini vacation. She made them feel happy and optimistic, she inspired them to always look at the bright side. Her clothes were cheerful, her accessories bright, and her books motivating and exciting. I had my own Lilly Pulitzer agenda book, and I was obsessed with it. Every month there was a quote that instantly made a perfect start to each day.

  • “Make a wish, take a chance.”
  • “Follow your heart, live your dreams.”
  • “Be the brightest of the bunch.”
  • “Being well dressed is a beautiful form of politeness.”
  • “If life gives you lemons, make Limencello.”
  • “Pool parties are the perfect excuse for an umbrella in your drink.”

lily book quote 

Lilly Pulitzer spread cheer and joy wherever she went. Whether you were a close friend of hers, only read her book, or purchased her scarf, you were touched by Lilly in some way. There are Pinterest pages dedicated to her, women idolizing her, dressing like her, and Sorority girls begging the brand to develop a design especially for them. (Here is my sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma’s personalized Lilly Pulitzer design below.) There is no doubt that the founder of Lilly Pulitzer Inc. will be missed and remembered as her legacy continues along.

So here is to the fabulous Lilly Pulitzer and the Lilly girl who “is always full of surprises. She lives everyday like it’s a celebration. Never has a dull moment, and makes every hour a happy hour.” Rest in peace.


lilly photo

“Being happy never goes out of style.” – Lilly Pulitzer.