It all started in Palm Beach. A young heiress (Lillian Lee McKim) and publishing scion (Peter Pulitzer) eloped, moving to the south Florida town where they owned a few citrus groves. It was the 1950s, and most women were girdled, lifted and cinched; but not Lilly Pulitzer. After having three children and a nervous breakdown, she opened a little juice stand on Via Mizner — wearing sleeveless, loose‑fitting dresses sewn up by her dressmaker (to stay cool in the Palm Beach humidity) in brightly coloured, printed fabrics (to hide the juice stains). When she started selling more dresses than juice, she became the Pucci of Palm Beach: an accidental entrepreneur who invented the shift dress, now known simply as a “Lilly.”
Lilly was unconventional in all things. She hated shoes and underwear, lining her dresses with muslin so women could go au naturel. In the ’40s she dropped out of college so she could deliver medical supplies (on horseback) to new mothers in the remote hills of Kentucky. And when she decided to live year‑round in the winter retreat of Palm Beach, raising the eyebrows of everyone in her glamorous set, her constant companion became a pet rhesus monkey.