A farewell to Lilly Pulitzer


April 7 was a sad day for many U.Va. girls. The woman responsible for all those brightly colored dresses seen around Grounds— Lilly Pulitzer — passed away. The socialite-turned-founder of Lilly Pulitzer, Inc., died in her Palm Beach, Florida home at the age of 81.

Born in Roslyn, New York in 1931, Pulitzer attended the Chapin School in New York City and later graduated from Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. She began college at Finch College in New York but dropped out after one semester to volunteer at a hospital. After marrying Peter Pulitzer, the owner of several citrus groves, and moving to Palm Beach, Florida, Pulitzer decided to open a juice stand — and it was from this unlikely beginning that she would garner inspiration for her clothing line.

Although Pulitzer enjoyed working at the juice stand, she quickly discovered that “juicing” ruined her clothes. To solve this problem, she innovatively designed a simple shift dress to hide these stains — and the rest is history. Soon, Pulitzer was selling more clothing than juice, and people were traveling from far and wide to buy what became known as her “Lillys.”

In 1959, Pulitzer became president of her own company, Lilly Pulitzer, Inc. 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.

Today, there are 75 Lilly Pulitzer stores across the country and the brand is featured prominently in a number of department stores. The line has expanded from women’s clothing to men’s and children’s fare, maternity wear, jewelry, bedding, stationery and even shoes. Pulitzer herself authored a pair of lifestyle books about entertaining and design.

Despite Pulitzer’s passing, her legacy will surely live on. One need only look at this year’s Foxfield attire to see a tribute to the gorgeous patterns and designs that made her famous.

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