Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thanks, Lilly!

The Lilly Life

I was saddened to learn Lilly Pulitzer, the creator of simple, cotton shifts in eye-popping prints and colors, had died on April 7th. I never knew the woman, of course. And though I grew up in a community that embraced those shifts in a big way, I never wore one. At the height of the Lilly’s popularity, I was having my hippie moment, favoring faded T-shirts, halter tops, long peasant skirts and torn jeans. Still, I’m indebted to Lilly Pulitzer. Her well-publicized, off-beat path to fashion icon has guided me for the past 20 years. In fact, now that I'm in my 50s, Lilly's story means more to me than ever. To continue, click...

I first read about the woman behind the legend in a New Yorker article, entitled simply Everything Lilly, in 2000. For nearly 30 years, The New Yorker has entertained me with fabulous tales of famous and no-so-famous people, the latest scientific insights, the anatomy of various historical events and crimes of the centuries, and much more. When I’m reading a New Yorker article, I often feel the warm glow of enlightenment—I love learning something new! However, with only the rarest exceptions, I never retain more than a few vague details from the consumed content. I have a really lousy memory! I’m boring you with this confession because I've never forgotten the article about Lilly Pulitzer.

I suspect most of you know the Lilly Pulitzer story, but here it is in a nutshell. After giving birth to three children, Lily had a nervous breakdown. Her physician basically told her there was nothing really wrong with her; she just needed something to do. So Lilly set up a fresh fruit juice stand on Worth Avenue, the Rodeo Drive of Palm Beach. She got the fruit from her millionaire husband’s groves and squeezed it for PB residents. The fresh squeezed juice business was messy, so Lilly had her housekeeper make up some simple, washable shifts in citrus colors to wear while working. Long story short: the shifts were more popular than the juice. Lilly received so many dress orders, in fact, she had no choice but to start a clothing line. Natch.

Reading about Lilly’s juice squeezing, fashion influencing experience was a little like an epiphany for me. At the time, I was in my 40s and seriously floundering. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for more than a decade, doing a little freelancing writing and editing. My two boys were in or soon to be in middle school and I was thinking about working outside the house. However, I wanted to try something new. Lilly’s experience inspired me. What I gleaned from her story was this: “Don't worry if you don’t know what your next step is or should be. Just get out there and try something--anything. You never know where it might lead.”

At time I read about Lilly, I was volunteering in a local museum. Five months later, someone I had met at the museum offered me a job in a field I knew nothing about. Needless to say, I was terrified. But I took the job because I wanted to see where it might lead. Thirteen years later, I’m still learning and loving my job.

I read once that reinvention is as American as apple pie. Women from Edith Wharton to Eleanor Roosevelt to Gloria Vanderbilt to Madonna—to name just four—have gone through massive reinventions. These days, articles about “reinvention over 50” are so common they almost seem cliché. I assume these articles appeal to our age group because many of us are concerned about how we’ll support ourselves--or just amuse ourselves--should we actually live another 30 or 40 years. Personally, I’ve never been able to think or plan that far ahead. But I do think about the present and wonder how I can make my life richer, more rewarding, more amusing right now--in my 50s.

Three years ago, I started this blog. I had just lost my best friend, a woman I'd known since college. Needless to say, I was paralyzed by my grief. I needed to do something totally new to ease my pain. Once again, I remembered what I had learned from Lilly's experience: When you don’t know what the next step is, just try something new. I still don't know where, if anywhere, this blog will lead. However, I've learned a lot about working online and style over 50, and have had an opportunity to communicate with some great women over 50. So...
Thanks, Lilly!