Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Growing Up "Lillified" With Miss Betty

I can't believe that there was a time in my life....even though I was just a child.....when these words passed my lips:

"Mother!  Can't you wear something else?  Lilly, Lilly, Lilly!  That's all you ever wear when you pick me up from school....Can't you buy something 'regular' to wear?"

What was I thinking?????  I guess I was going through a horrible rebellious phase...or was just being stupid.

My connection with (and love of) Lilly goes back a long way. We moved to Delray Beach, Florida in 1962, when I was three, and although our house was there, Palm Beach was just as much our home. Everything we did seemed to be based there.  Delray was a lovely little "village by the sea" (still is!), but it didn't have what Palm Beach had.  Our doctors were there (actually right across the waterway in West Palm), my mother's many Junior League activities were there, the places we shopped, you name it... I knew A1A (the beach road) like the back of my hand by the time I was six.

When I asked my mother that dreadful question all those years ago, she explained to me why she wore her "shifts." (You will hear a lot more about my mother in the weeks and months to come, for she was a very colorful woman, who was definitely a classic....a Southern grande dame.  She died in December 2008, but I still get calls from friends and family asking, "What would Betty do?  What would Betty say?"  Whether it was writing a simple thank you note or planning a wedding or a funeral, Betty was the ultimate word on doing things graciously and properly!)  Comfort was important to her, as was quality.  Also, Betty knew Lilly.  She didn't know her well at all...only met her a time or two I think, but she was buying Lilly shifts before Lilly was an established company/brand. She liked and respected her, and thought she had a brilliant thing going with these dresses. You see, back then, they were just that .... "shifts."  Cool cotton dresses that let the ever present South Florida heat circulate around the body. Colorful dresses that didn't show stains or wear and tear.   I don't remember any of my mother's friends referring to a shift as a "Lilly" until later, when the store was really established.  When Miss Betty and friends were first clients, I believe a Cuban lady was sewing for Lilly at the time, and then the production operation was moved to Key West and Lilly Pulitzer really took off! 

Iconic photo of Lilly from lilly.com 
Notice the dome racks in the background!
My memories of Lilly Pulitzer were in her wonderful shop on the Via Mizner.  As a child I was fascinated by the rattan domes she had hanging from the ceiling, on which the shifts would hang.  If you visit the Lilly website to read the history of the company (and you should!!), you will see this picture, and you will know what I am talking about...Although I knew better even to think about trying this, I remember wondering what would happen if, like a child's swing, you would turn the rattan domes around and around....and then let them go.  The thought of the beautiful swirl of color as all the dresses lifted in the breeze was fascinating.  Listen, if you are a child, and you are sitting in a Lilly store for looooooong periods of time while your mother tries on shifts and talks to her friends, you have to find something to occupy your time.  But, I was Miss Betty's daughter, so bad behavior wasn't an option.  Also, I was always on my best behavior in Palm Beach, because it would mean a trip to FAO Schwarz and then lunch at Schrafft's (both at the Royal Poinciana Plaza) or Hamburger Heaven (on County Road...still there and still a favorite)!

I think the Palm Beach ladies loved the first shifts because of the air flow and cooling the dresses provided, being made of cotton.  There were a lot of places that were not air conditioned in the 1960's, so that helped.  Things changed a little bit in the 1970's and the store continued until the 1980's, when it closed.  I was an adult by then, living in Atlanta and working for Tiffany & Co. at the time.  I had gone home for a few days and when we were in Palm Beach, we walked past the empty store.  I remember how sad I felt, thinking it was the end of an era......  But, the brand was revived by wonderful people, the marketing got the word out...and now the whole world is Lillified!  Lilly Pulitzer was and is...and always will be.....a star! I treasure the older Lilly pieces that I have....and still chuckle at Miss Betty and her shifts. She said they were the most comfortable things to wear, and she wore them everywhere.  Visiting a friend's ranch in Colorado and having a cocktail after riding all day....everyone in their riding gear except Miss Betty.  Guess what she was wearing?  Yes....her shift.

A tiny post script.....  I am going to write more about old Palm Beach later, because there was nowhere more classically preppy....but if any of you reading this blog also grew up in or around Palm Beach in the 60's and 70's, you, too, will remember The Lullabye Shop and The Prep Shop.  These side by side stores were across Worth Avenue from Lilly Pulitzer's, and had the most wonderful children's clothes.  I think almost everything my brother and I wore came from those stores!  How sad I was to read of Mr. Newman's death last week.  The Shiny Sheet has done a wonderful write up about his life, and it's here:

Remembering "Mr. Palm Beach."

More soon.... but before I go, one last Lilly-ism.  Lilly Pulitzer, the company, and I have one more thing in common.  If you are familiar with the "Originals" line, you will see that is was "established 1959-ish".... I was, too!  I especially like the "ish" part....gives you a lot of flexibility in owning your age!

Have a sunny day!

PS.  A few days later, and I just found a great retrospective video from Lilly....Enjoy!


  1. What an amazing post! This is so beautifully written, I can't wait to read more! Have a great day!

  2. Thank you.. I am having a lot of fun! Hope yours is a great day, too!!

  3. Wow, I just found your blog and already I LOVE it! Such a beautiful story and post, I can't wait to read more stories! :) I'm definitely adding to my daily reads!
    XOXO- Vy

  4. I love this post! Please write more on Ms.Betty sounds like she was a wonderful women! I always love to learn more about Lilly anything, great blog!!

  5. I have enjoyed reading your posts and am looking forward to more! I'm a new follower:)

  6. Oh! You painted that picture so well, I felt like I was right there in Lilly's shop. I especially liked the little-girl-thought of spinning the rattan bird cages so that you could see the colored dresses swirl. Thank you for sharing your memories w/the rest of us