Does Lilly Pulitzer for Target Signal the End of the World?

Last week internet users were treated to the news that the next Target design collaboration is to be with Lilly Pulitzer.  I found the news to be a bit confusing.  As far as “designer” lines are concerned, Lilly Pulitzer is on the low end.  Their $198 shift dress seems expensive, but not so much so that a girl who really wants one can’t save up her dollars for a little pink and green splurge.

When the news broke, Mod Betty was quick to email, which led to a discussion about what wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says about the wearer.  Funny, because we both admitted that we just could not bring ourselves to wear the various thrift store “Lillies” we had sourced over the years.

I’m not a big wearer of prints, so it’s not surprising that I’ve never been able to warm to the brand.  But Mod Betty loves a great print shift dress, yet she too can’t seem to love the line.  She brought up an interesting point – that wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says certain things about the wearer.  There seems to be a certain code among wearers that says, “I’m rich enough to blow $200 on a shift dress.”

And it’s a code that is lost on those not in on the secret.  Someone could wear a Lilly Pulitzer shift down the street of my town and the dress might be noticed due to the bright print, but most people would be shocked to learn that the woman wearing it had spent $200 for it.

But in other places, like Charleston, SC, many preppy-leaning college towns, and certain places in Florida, the message would be transmitted loud and clear.  Most importantly, the others in on the secret would know the dress cost $200.  How long do you think it will take that tribe to detect a $50 Target Lilly?

My back and forth correspondence with Mod Betty had not ended before an interesting link came through to me by way of Twitter.  Seems like the Lilly Pulitzer fans had swiftly gone to Twitter to express their displeasure at the collaboration.  Refinery29 gathered the best of the worst and served it all up as “39 Girls Who Are Mad as Hell about Lilly Pulitzer for Target.”

It may distress you to know that Jackie (Kennedy) and Lilly herself are now rolling in their graves due to this horrendous event.  Even worse, there are predictions of the apocalypse and people’s retirement accounts being ruined.

But seriously, I was disturbed at so many of the posters referring to “basics.”  You might assume without reading the tweets that they were taking about basic wardrobe items, but it is alarming to realize that is how these women were referring to people who were not rich and “classy” enough to wear Lilly Pulitzer.  There was a real element of classism in most of the tweets.

I’m not happy about this Lilly for Target crap. Now everybody and their mother will own it and think they’re now preppy and classy.

Most ironically put, I’d say.

Actually this does not surprise me.  Several years ago while researching the resurgence of interest in “heritage” brands, I ran across several preppy style blogs.  I learned quickly that the truly preppy are different from you and me, and they want to keep it that way.  They can sniff out a faux prep at twenty paces, and they make sure the blogosphere knows it.  It would be silly if not for their sincerity.

The only non-vintage Lilly Pulitzer I have in my possession is this dress I bought for my grand-niece who lives in Florida and can hopefully wear it without getting side-eye from the other little girls.  This dress is several years old, but the level of quality is quite impressive.  The dress is made from nice poplin fabric and is fully lined in cotton.  There is signature Lilly lace hem tape.  Look carefully at the print to see “Lilly” hidden throughout.  I doubt very seriously that the Lilly for Target dresses will have the same attention to detail and finishing.


Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Viewpoint

34 responses to “Does Lilly Pulitzer for Target Signal the End of the World?

  1. Lzzie…love this happy little dress….especially the choice of candy cane print for the lining….Did your grand-niece like it and did she wear it?

    A feel good dress, for sure….made very well. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol

    The Lily. Pulitzer discussion takes me back to family vacations on Hilton Head Island. We stayed in a small cottage that was not in the resort area of Sea Pines, but we would take shopping trips to Harbor Town in the resort. There was a. Lily Pulitzer shop there and my mother would buy fabrics to make her own items. As I recall, she mostly produced neckties for my father. I’m sure he had the most stylish ties at his workplace. I agree that the clothes were well made, but I could not see myself in any of them either. You remarks about the classicism are on target, pun intended.


  3. having posted here re: Lilly / Key West Hand Print Fabrics (that is how i founf Fuzzy Lizzie)..iI knew Lilly personally as well as in business..i hate to deliver the real truth to all of you Lilly Fans….if you were not wearing a Lilly purchased later than the early 80’s from one of HER shops – and- it was not made from Key West Hand Print….then….you really do not own a true Lilly…ALSO- a message to the dillusional “copy person/writer who dubbed her “the Queen of Prep”…you have absolutly no idea of what you are talking about!?!!!…she would have hated it!..the later fabrics used were very bad copies of the originals and subs in order to keep the production and brand alive…sorry to have to report this…the Lilly world was a very special period in time and has been misunderstood and mislabled …ask those who knew-for those who still do not get it…you missed the party!Sorry!she was a great person and loved life to the max!


  4. Well, as someone who goes for a more tailored look and doesn’t appreciate flower prints, I have never liked Lilly Pulitzer. What I wondered (naively I now realize) when I read about the Target collaboration was “who on earth will wear those loud dresses?” I guess I should have added “those loud dresses without authentic prints and quality details.”


  5. I don’t know about “end of the world,” but this collaboration does seem a little weird to me, somewhat in the same way that the Vera Neumann one was. I thought Target did these collections to give themselves a high fashion/stylish edge. I don’t think Lilly or Vera is what you would currently call particularly edgy or high fashion.

    It’s so funny to me because the only time I see these Target collections is later, after the local Goodwill stores have racks full of it! I bet these collaborations are excellent for the designers, but I wonder if they still work well for Target. (I shudder to think that they continue to make money no matter what, based on the cheapness of the manufacturing.)

    Interesting on the price points. . . as you said, you can buy a new Lilly Pulitzer dress *now* for $200 or less at department stores. Clearly, the company has already decided to adjust its prices to cater to folk with a lot less money than rich preps. Clearly, the time for an outcry over “basics” buying Lilly has passed! (lol.)


    • After all the backlash, I can’t see it helping out Lilly Pulitzer either. There was a second twitter flurry when it was revealed that the plus sizes in the line will be available only online. But then it has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

      It is clear that the idea of the “democratization” of fashion has not registered with the Lilly set.


  6. I don’t know about you, but I learned from the Liberty of London collection that Target’s merchandise bears little or no resemblance to the original product brand, so it’s not worth the effort. Here on the west coast, I don’t think that Lilly prints travel much further than the golf course. It will sell if it’s cute, but the buyer won’t know the true significance of what she’s wearing.


    • Those Liberty fabrics were pretty dreadful for the most part, as were the Vera for Target scarf fabrics.


      • Cynthia

        I did buy a Vera for Target scarf-not that I cared it was Vera, but that I liked the ladybug print. It could have been Target’s own brand and I would have bought it because of the ladybugs. When Target carries a designer line, obviously it’s not going to be the same quality as the original designer’s line because it’s mass-produced.


  7. I’ll openly admit that I had no idea who Lilly Pulitzer was before this post! But I am aware of Target’s collaborations with designers and the uproar of it.

    While on one hand I totally get people being upset over a designer partnering with a big box store, I remember throwing a hissy fit when I found out that White Stag was available at Walmart. Seeing what was once considered a high-end brand available at someplace where you can also buy your particle board furniture and even groceries does seem off-putting, and “cheapen” the brand. However, I think that as the labels will read “for Target” on them, there is a level of awareness that while, sure, you may be wearing something with Lilly Pulitzer on it, like on girl mentioned, it isn’t a “real” one, and I think that, as you mentioned, there is a certain level of doubt that the ones being made for Target will get the same level of attention. With the White Stag/Walmart situation, it isn’t even a White Stage FOR Walmart, it’s just White Stag! And that’s more horrendous.


  8. *Stag, meant STAG, not Stage! *facepalm*


  9. Those tweets are hilarious. I see plenty of Lilly on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer, worn with Jack Rogers sandals. All it says to me is “upper middle class and lacking imagination.” But as for whether the Target collab is watering down preppy by bringing it to the masses, Ralph Lauren took care of that 30 years ago.


  10. Carrie

    I had no idea that the word “basics” was a classist pejorative certain Lilly devotees pin on other human beings. Ugh.

    And I had no idea those who used it tend to dismiss Target as “for hipsters”!

    Semantics may be just that, but the next time I see a woman in a Lilly shift, I’ll think very little of her ( unless she’s wearing a made-for-Target one:) )


  11. You say ‘Lilly Pulitzer’ and my mind zooms to the New Canaan (CT) Country Club in the 50’s and into the 60’s. No Jews, no blacks and Loads of Lilly Pulitzer frocks.


  12. Ree

    Intriguing post; comments are interesting reads. I had heard of LP but didn’t know the past significance of the brand. Funny, I found a new LP cosmetic bag while thrifting for super cheap – $1.58. But I hated the fabric pattern so much I couldn’t bring myself to buy for myself or even to resell.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I just thought I would pipe in with a different perspective, as I’m 20-something graduate student. I knew the name Lilly Pulitzer and the story about the juice stand, her connection to Jackie Kennedy, etc, and I would wear her stuff (although the vintage pieces I’ve seen are more appealing than the Target ones) because I love prints and shift dresses. I was unaware of this distinctive identity of a Lilly wearer that you seem to be discussing (maybe I’m too young?), and it seems like it’s maybe blown a little out of proportion, or this perspective is centered around certain locations. I can shed some light on the use of the word “basic.” It’s a trendy word that has been going around for some time now, used in BuzzFeed articles and such, to describe someone who is kind of cliché, following the pack, almost too normal to be interesting. It is often paired with an expletive that also starts with a “b.” (Take a look on Urban Dictionary.) While the uses I’ve seen tend to refer to upper middle class girls who wear ugg boots and drink pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, I don’t think it’s particularly classist, it’s more about something being too common or unoriginal. Yes, exclusivity and class are related, but I can understand fans of a brand being annoyed about everyone now wearing it, not necessarily because it’s available to a larger range of socioeconomic classes but because it’s being framed as the new cool thing and sold on a larger scale, which of course to some makes it no longer cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always enjoy a different perspective, so thanks so much for providing one.

      As for the use of “basic” as a descriptive word for women, I get the use of the word as an adjective, but to refer to women as “basics” leads me to the conclusion that the user of the word is placing women in categories. Whether or not the categories are classist would depend on the other words used. When I read things like “lose its prestige”, “took away the exclusiveness”, “degrading for the product”, “used to be so classy and exclusive”, and best of all, “Sucks if you can’t afford it but that’s life”, then I can’t help but detect a sense of entitlement in the posts.

      It’s always risky to make assumptions about a group based on the words of individuals, but in this case, there is quite a bit of evidence that these posters were distressed that the exclusivity of the brand was diminished because now everyone will be able to afford it.

      I do agree that distress of this type is not always classist. I can remember how in the 1990s the Goths used to bemoan the fact that non-Goths were “stealing” their non-color. I guess that not everyone wants to be a trend-setter!


  14. The Lilly Pulitzer for Target prints are exclusive for Target and they say Lilly for (Target’s bullseye sign). People will be able to spot them a mil away. I also do not think this is a huge crisis.


  15. Cynthia Schoonover

    The Lilly for Target was a huge fiasco. It was gone before I had a chance to buy anything and I knew it would not be the same quality as the $200 dresses, but as I sew, I would never pay $200 for any dress. I did buy a Vera scarf from Target a couple of years ago, but not because it was Vera, but because I fell in love with the lady bug print. I get compliments on the scarf every time I wear it.


  16. I’m someone who wears/owns a lot of LP. I wear it because summer is my favorite season, and I love bright colors and prints. Her brand exudes sun, relaxation, fun and happiness. That is why I personally am attracted to the brand, not to show people that I belong in a certain socioeconomic group. I did read the tweets about Lilly for Target, and it was then that I first learned what a “basic” was, although JLNieling has provided a more thorough perspective of a word! However, I still find using the word demeaning, snobby and would never use it. I know a lot of unique and interesting people who may look like a “basic”, but focus on other great things than their personal style. I did watch a few You Tube videos of people’s Lilly for Target Haul, and I noticed right away differences from the original line. Either way, a true Lilly lover would notice the difference, and those that don’t, who cares? I’ve always known that LP sold the company in 1984, that I wasn’t wearing a “true” LP anyway. An older family friend did give me a true vintage Lilly of hers and only because she knew how much I appreciated the brand. I still think that the whole shopping debacle when Lilly for Target arrived is just overall sad. What was the point to offer such a limited supply, create a huge commotion over it, make people stand on line hours before they opened and then fight tooth and nail over cleaning out the racks and hoarding close to knock-off product within the the first 30 minutes?? So glad I wasn’t a part of that! A horrible way for marketers to treat women in my opinion! Those women should just hit TJ Maxx or sign up for a few flash sale sites, and will be guaranteed to find it at a great price at some point.


  17. Sara

    I recently came across a Lilly dress at a thrift store! It is a little girl’s shift dress in orange and pink. It is like the one you purchased with the 100% cotton and lace hem. I see many “lillys” throughout the print. I was wondering if you may know or if anyone knows the print and how old. It is orange background with pink sea creatures. (whales, dolphins, starfish, fish, crabs, turtles, octopus, smiling sun, frogs, jellyfish, flamingo) It has ruffles on the bottom as well as around the neck.
    Thank you!


  18. It’s not the price of the dress, it’s the lifestyle it represents. “Life is a party, dress like it” was one of Lilly Pulitzer’s signature quotes and that was her philosophy on life, and on dressing. True Lilly lovers won’t care if it’s a Lilly for Target or a Lilly from the Lilly store. A true Lilly lover just appreciates the smile that automatically appears on her face when she sees the dress from across the street. That is what it means to wear a Lilly, to spread cheer and whimsy, to add color, and happiness to every day life.

    Liked by 1 person

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