What does Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer b. 10 April 1847, once-served Civil War Union Soldier, American newspaper publisher and magnate, namesake of the coveted award for excellence in journalism have to do with fashion? Absolutely nothing. Except for the fact that he had a son, who had a son, who eloped in the early 1950s with a woman named Lillian Lee McKim, who in 1959 became the president of her own clothing company (one of my favorites), aptly named Lilly Pulitzer.
As a librarian, and a genealogist, and the CEO of my own online resale shop through Poshmark, this Pulitzer family connection tie-in to two of my personal passions, literature and fashion, was exciting for me to piece together.
On the literature side of things, the Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine, online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States. The prize was established in 1917, six years after the death of Joseph Pulitzer, and has been awarded to many deserving recipients including authors John Steinbeck for The Grapes of Wrath, Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind, and Pearl. S. Buck (who happens to be a distant relative of my own!) for her 1931 historical fiction novel The Good Earth.
On the fashion side, Lilly McKim was born a socialite (her mother was an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune) and then married Peter Pulitzer, grandson of one of America’s hardest-working self-starters in the history of journalism. The newly-wed Lilly Pulitzer was, despite her money and status, not one to shy away from hard work herself and hit the ground running, oftentimes barefoot as I’ve read, in the sunshine state.
Lilly and her husband owned several orange groves in Florida, which prompted her to open a fruit juice stand in Palm Beach. It is at this fruit stand where serendipity unfolds. Lilly was juicing oranges daily and discovered that it made a mess of her clothing. In an effort to camouflage the stains she knew she would get on the job, she made herself a simple shift dress out of the brightest patterned cotton she could find. And, to her surprise, her dress was a hit with her customers. So much so, that she began making copies of her dress and selling them at the stand.
It didn’t take long for her vibrant prints and sunshine-ready looks to take on a life of their own. Soon, Lilly was dressing socialites and every day wearers alike, including Lilly’s former school pal, Jackie Kennedy, who famously wore a Lilly shift dress on the August 1962 cover of Time magazine that the designer made from kitchen curtain fabric.
Style isn’t just about what you wear, it’s about how you live.Lilly Pulitzer
Lilly didn’t set out to be a fashion designer and icon. But, it seems that she was directed by divine forces to travel that path of her career. There is a connectedness in the universe that can lead us to great places in our lives if we take the time to slow down and to listen to what it’s saying. This relativity between unlikely things is what inspires this blog, my need to show the interesting ties and connections to my own different worlds. Worlds that seem completely separate, at first glace, but have connecting threads woven through.
I have always loved Lilly Pulitzer’s designs, from her bold dresses, whimsical skirts, bright bags, and decorative housewares, but, I love them even more now knowing the story behind the label and the serendipitous way her company started. Connecting the dots in Lilly’s life, from a Pulitzer bride, to a juice squeezer at a fruit stand, to one of the greatest female fashion entrepreneurs of the twentieth century (who also happened to be a schoolmate and friend and clothier of my original fashion icon, Jackie Kennedy) to the small way it ties into my life was a fun adventure. The world can be a very close place when you stop and notice how things tie together.