A Tale of Two Women: Lilly Pulitzer and Margaret Thatcher

The strange thing about death is how it inspires many of the living to speak in hyperbole. Last week, we lost an “icon” who “brought together generations” and “reinvented” how things were done.

And if that’s how fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer is spoken of, you can imagine what’s being said about Margaret Thatcher.

Ms. Pulitzer died on Sunday in her home in Palm Beach. Her signature preppy and slightly nautical aesthetic, a uniform for the country club set, was pretty and easily wearable. The simple shift dresses, nothing more than two seams and two darts in punchy prints and bright colors, have clothed sorority girls and a First Lady.

A beautiful woman in a Lilly dress. Image: ralph and jenny via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

As the wife of a wealthy citrus grove owner, a bored Pulitzer opened an juice stand. Tired of constantly staining her dresses, she designed a shift dress in a bright pattern that would hide spills. Soon, women were asking about her dresses as they waited on their juice. She sold a few starting in 1959 that would eventually become the dresses simply known as “Lilly’s.” They originally sold for $22 and now can retail for upwards of $300. After a few decades of success, her company sought bankruptcy protection in 1984, but the brand was revived in the 1990s and Ms. Pulitzer was occasionally consulted. She chose to live out her later years quietly, in contrast to the brash dresses that made her famous.

Her generational cohort, Margaret Thatcher, similarly lived out the end of her life. Dementia and a series of small strokes led the Iron Lady to defer speaking engagements and attend very few public events over her last decade.

Early on in her life as a wealthy wife, Ms. Pulitzer felt restless and bored. She credits her fashion line with reviving her interests. She eventually divorced her first husband and continued to live a life with a persona “far more colorful than the clothes.” Though her private life is somewhat unknown, the Lilly dresses represent a woman of pragmatism and joy, someone unafraid to embrace color.

Ms. Thatcher provides the grit to Ms. Pulitzer’s color. Her sometimes abrasive and unyielding style has been criticized though she has no shortage of admirers. As the only female Prime Minister of Great Britain, Ms. Thatcher’s impact and role in history is hard to overemphasize. Her death does not lend to grandiose hyperbole; she truly is an icon.

A woman who began a middling fashion brand and a woman who ran a country for over 11 years. They have a common thread: they wanted to do something and then they did it. No small feat.

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About Lauren Rambo

Lauren Rambo is a wife, mom, and redheaded stepchild living in Louisville, Kentucky. She blogs at South by Style.


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