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6 Life Lessons from Lilly Pulitzer

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I didn’t set out to be unusual or different. I just wanted to do things my way. – Lilly Pulitzer

In honor of today being iconic designer Lilly Pulitzer’s holiday (It’s called “National Wear Your Lilly Day”) we thought we would look back to this innovative woman’s life. There are many career lessons we can learn from this amazing woman who was an entrepreneur in literally every sense. As Margaret Abrams of The Observer wrote, “Whether you’ve worn Lilly since your mother purchased you matching dresses with bows, or you would never don a dress that could double as your grandmother’s curtains, you have to appreciate a brand with such steadfast fans it has an entire day devoted to them.” You gotta love a girl who can build a business empire….while wearing pink crocodiles sipping martinis.

1. Work with what you got.

Pulitzer came up with her first design after spilling orange juice on her dress while living in Florida—a mistake at the time, but one that would lead to a very exciting life and her signature brightly colored designs. She opened a juice stand near her house and started sporting her colorful designs that also hid juice stains. Women took notice and asked where they could get the cute dresses. A new business was born.

2. Fake it ’til you make it.

Pulitzer fully admits she had no idea what she was doing when it came to starting a clothing company. “It was a total change of life for me,” Pulitzer said of starting her line. “I entered it with no business sense… It was just something that I all of a sudden took over.” The line of dresses that bore her name was later expanded to swimsuits, country club attire, children’s clothing, a home collection, and a limited selection of men’s wear.

3. Be a rule breaker.

Pulitzer’s dresses were, at the time, considered a little unconventional. She used bright colors and crazy, fun patterns (for grownups!). When retailers told her she couldn’t do fun, summery patterns for fall and winter, she famously said, “It’s always summer somewhere.” Why can’t you wear pink shrimps sipping cocktails in February? Bring a little light into your day!

Kathryn Livingston, author of the new biography Lilly, told Town & Country, “Lilly Pulitzer was a rebellious young barefoot boho, a rule breaker who liked to walk around the exclusive, perfectly manicured streets of Palm Beach with a pet monkey on her shoulder at the time she started her fashion business. She was so different from the more formal, bejeweled, grand society leaders of America’s reigning resort of the era, like Mrs. Merriwhether Post or Mary Sanford, who glittered at all the glamorous charity events and ruled all the ball committees.”

4. Connections are important.

Pulitzer really had her breakthrough into culture when her former classmate, a certain new first lady named Jackie Kennedy, wore one of the Lilly prints on the cover of Life Magazine. Bet she was sent a thank you note for that!

5. Support your network.

Pulitzer’s dresses did so well because she designed them for her friends and they supported her. In return, when her friends moved to new cities with their husbands, she would open a shop in those places. Not just to dress them, but to give them work! “Their husbands would be shipped out to some city or town for their jobs, and then what’s the poor girl gonna do? She needs a job! She needs a Lilly shop!” she rationalized.

6. Have passion.

Pulitzer loved every aspect of her company. “I don’t know how to explain what it was like to run my business, the joy of every day,” she told Vanity Fair magazine in a story in 2003. “I got a kick every time I went into the shipping department… I loved seeing [the dresses] going out the door. I loved them selling in the shop. I liked them on the body. Everything. There’s no explaining the fun I had.”

It’s all about “Love, Lilly, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Photos: Courtesy of Lilly Pulitzer x Target Collection

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