KELLY VAUGHAN ’17
Lilly Pulitzer, a brand that emulates love for pink, parties, and prints, is suddenly experiencing backlash after two controversial events came ashore last week. First, was the release of a collaboration between discount retailer Target and Lilly Pulitzer. Target is known for teaming up with high-end designers to offer affordable versions of highly coveted items. However, this collection between the bull’s-eye brand and the ‘Queen of Prep’ drew more attention and debate than ever before. While some fans of the brand were looking forward to adding — or starting — their collection of Lilly, others were not so pleased. One overly emotional tween girl tweeted, “Lilly Pulitzer is turning over her grave right now that her legacy is being sold at TARGET.”
Then, there was the issue of the Washington Post article titled, “Lilly Pulitzer may be good for retail, but it’s terrible fashion.” Robin Givhan, author of the post, shared her belief that “Lilly Pulitzer is not fashion. It is clothes.” I, among many others, were outraged over this claim. I think it is fair to say that Lilly Pulitzer never has been, nor is trying to be, a haute couture brand. However, that does not mean it is not fashion. Lilly Pulitzer has been loved by women and men for decades. It is timeless, undeniably preppy, American apparel. It may not be fashion in the sense that there is a highly anticipated runway show twice a year, and that it may not grace the backs of Vogue cover models, but it is also not a symbol of where one summers or attended boarding school. It is a symbol of happiness, a bright spirit, and an acceptance of femininity.
Perhaps the deals at Target were not as large of a difference as a mark down of “a Rodarte dress normally [costing] a customer anywhere from $3,000 on up. But mostly everything in the Target collection was less than $100.” One of the goals of the Target collection is to offer designer pieces for loyal lovers of the given brand at an affordable price. There are girls all over the country lusting over a Lilly dress the same way they are a Missoni scarf. Perhaps at their original prices, Lilly Pulitzer is less expensive than Missoni, but at the end of the day, those who have hoped to own a Lilly dress finally can. Some Lilly owners didn’t like the Target collection because it was giving others a chance to wear something that they believed they were somehow entitled to. The rage and anger all over social media is surely not what Ms. Pulitzer herself would have wanted. Lisa Birnbach, author of the preppy bible “The Official Preppy Handbook,” shared her thoughts, stating, “Down to earth and earthy, she decorated her house with good stuff and with papier-mâché gewgaws…Pulitzer, despite her last name, was no snob.”
Robin Givhan claims that “Anyone can work hard and save up enough cash to go out and purchase a Chanel suit or a Gucci handbag…But Lilly Pulitzer suggests an advantage of birth.” Who is Givhan to say that merely the 1 percent are the only wearers of Lilly? Or that those who choose to wear Lily are somehow pretentious? I, for one, look forward to the bi-annual Lilly Pulitzer sale in which dresses are marked down from $188 to $59, and scarves normally retailed at $118 are sold for approximately $29. During Lilly’s After-Cheer sale at the beginning of January, I woke up at 6:45 a.m. on my winter break to shop pages and pages of seaside-inspired clothing. Though I was able to purchase a few pieces before they sold out, I later went on the site only to find that I was approximately 43,582 in line to visit the website. For some, this sale is just an opportunity to pick up a few things at a discounted price, while for others, it’s the chance to finally afford the shift dress they’ve been looking at since its April release at a reasonable price.
Lilly possesses a unique quality that every girl can identify with in a way that one can’t with a higher end brand such as Chanel or Gucci. Whether or not one chooses to wear pink flamingo printed dresses at age 25 is up to them, but most girls have at some point had a love for pink, bows, lace, tassels, etc. You don’t have to live on Worth Avenue to identify with the brand.
Michaela English, senior web editor of Town & Country, also wrote an article defending her love for Lilly Pulitzer, stating that “I embrace Lilly Pulitzer—and have for decades. In fact, I feel empowered walking the streets of New York City, where the majority of people wear head-to-toe black, in my bright green and pink jungle print shift dresses. I confidently walk into soirées like The Frick Collection’s Summer Garden Party decked out in a Lilly Pulitzer print maxi gown.” Lilly Pulitzer, recognizing this dedication among its consumers, started a campaign known as, “I remember my first Lilly.” Customers could share photos and stories of their first Lilly product ever received and what it means to them. While all individuals have a treasured accessory in their closet, Lilly Pulitzer wants all of their customers to be able to embrace the importance of every piece of their apparel.
Lilly created something that girls have loved and identified with for years. “Lilly Pulitzer is classic. It is always hanging on a rack somewhere, everywhere, in all of its pineapple-print, feel-good, preppy psychedelia.” Givhan sees this as a negative. However, I prefer to invest in a piece that I know I will be able to pass down to my daughters and their daughters. Lilly is timeless. English would agree, also sharing the memories threaded into her shift dresses stating that, “Lilly is a brand that has spanned all different times of my life, from attending school dances in middle school to my seat as senior web editor here at Town & Country.”
I can’t say Givhen’s opinion that “the clothes are, upon close inspection, not so terribly attractive,” is wrong as everyone has their own personal tastes. However, this does not advance her argument in anyway. I, among many other women and men, personally do not find a wardrobe of black, leather, and lace attractive. It may be fashionable and trendy, but it is not something I personally would wear. Nevertheless, I admire individuals who have clearly taken the time to invest in quality products and made sure their outfit looks good. Sure, students at schools which embody more of a ‘hipster’ vibe, like Sarah Lawrence or Bard, compared to the prepiness seen at Trinity, may not be walking around strutting highly coveted “You Gotta Regatta” printed shorts. That sense of fashion may have a higher appreciation for a plaid shirt and ripped jeans found at a thrift store. In that sense, there is no denying that Lilly does attract a specific customer.
A Lilly dress or pair of pants is just as much a work of art as any couture brand. The company uses a different, clearly identifiable trait in their clothing that distinguished the brand in the first place, the prints. Lilly employees hand paint each bold print and then executives carefully select the best ones to create a line of shirts, shifts, and skorts from. It is not computer generated or purchased from a shelf in a fabric warehouse. The artists are trained to paint in the Lilly way and look at inspiring images of architecture, travel destinations, and vintage photos to create every signature print.
Consumers of Lilly Pulitzer aren’t investing in a dress or a bowtie. They are investing in a lifestyle and mindset that they identify with. At the end of the day, a girl walking around in a cobalt blue skirt with starfish printed over it loves what she is wearing and feels happy. My roommate tells me that I look happier when I am wearing my Lilly dresses and I know I am! As a Lilly girl, I’m going to remain positive and say that since everyone is entitiled to their opinion, I am entitled to love my Lilly. Life is a party and we should want as many people as possible to join in the festivities.