Monday, April 27, 2015

About Lilly Pulitzer

I had been kind of half-watching some of the stuff about the Lilly Pulitzer at Target stories. There seems to have been a lot of anger, directed different places:

1. At Target, for its website crashing. Maybe this is slightly justified, though it seems that it's hard to have a website that stays up under heavy traffic

2. At the people who bought up gobs of the stuff and are now re-selling it for inflated prices on eBay. I admit I feel some dismay about that - it does feel a tiny bit like cheating to me, and I hope none of those people elbowed, say, a college student who had carefully saved her clothing budget so she could get one or two things, out of the way as they rushed into Target (see: Why I Hate Black Friday Shopping)

3. At Lilly Pulitzer Company (the designer herself has apparently gone on to her reward, so it's not really directed at her, or at least, it can't be) because of....well, depending on who you read it's because it's Stuff Rich People Like or because the brand has now watered itself down by selling through (gasp) a mass retailer. I don't know. I'm going to assume most of the upset is the Stuff Rich People Like because that seems to be most of what I've seen. (I can guar-an-darn-tee you, that if I ordered a Lilly Pulitzer dress, they would NOT ask me if I was in the DAR, or how much money my dad earned when he was working, or what sorority I had belonged to, if any, in college. They really don't care, they'll still sell you that dress. It's not like applying to a country club.)

Reasons 2 and I said with #2, it does feel a little bit like cheating to me to buy up ALL the examples of something, snatching it from under other people's noses. Oh, it's not illegal and it's arguably good capitalism, but it's still......well, kind of jerkish behavior. (Go back in time with me, friends. Back to circa 1985 or so. To The Learned Owl's sidewalk sale. And to me, who had saved up my money in the hopes of getting a copy of one of Michele Durkson Clise's books on her teddy-bear world (yes, I was 16 at the time, shut up.) And I hurry up to the stalls, just to find a woman in front of me grabbing EVERY COPY OF THE BOOK SHE COULD FIND.

If I had been more assertive, I might have asked her if she'd let me have just one copy.....but I probably knew the answer before hand so I didn't ask. (I did, many years later, find the book at a vintage-things store in I ultimately got a copy, just maybe 25 years later).

And granted, none of these things is necessities. And it seems a little foolish to snarl about people snatching up cheap versions of designer sundresses when half a world away, people are queuing up for bottles of water. (But here's the thing: people being what they are, there may well be some people in Nepal who get knocked down or pushed aside just so the pusher can get an extra water ration. That's evil, I wouldn't say grabbing all the cheap sundresses was. Selfish and slightly jerky, maybe, but it's different than preventing someone from getting access to something they needed to live and had no other way to get)

And number 3....well, those of you who have read me for a while know I grew up in a fairly wealthy bedroom community where most of the people I went to school with had dads who were executives of some kind. My family was middle class (US middle class, not UK - I recently learned in the UK "middle class" means something posher than it does here). We were comfortably off, the bills were always paid, we ate nutritious food and always had enough fresh vegetables and meat. But my parents were frugal and didn't believe in spending unnecessarily on stuff (which may be why we maintained being "middle class"). For example, I still hear my dad saying, "Turn off that light! We're not made of money!" when I walk out of a room and don't switch off the lamp. We belonged to a food co-op for a while and bought things in bulk. My parents had a large garden and my mom baked all our bread. (Though given the cheapness of some store bread....well, we probably got better QUALITY given the cost, but I don't think even then baking bread from scratch would be cheaper than the very cheapest grocery store bread)

And it's.....different.....coming from a frugal family when you live in a town where conspicuous consumption seems to be the norm. I commented a little while back about how some of the kids I went to school with talked about going to the Bahamas for Christmas break and similar? (Though I remember thinking it would be a poor Christmas, to have to spend it in a hotel room). That kind of thing.

And I wonder if the vitriol towards Lilly Pulitzer is partly one of envy of some kind. I know a little bit about envy. I was regularly teased as a tween for not having designer jeans (this was when they were first popular and were REALLY a big deal. A big big deal). I wanted a pair - everyone wants to fit in on some level, I think - but my parents wouldn't buy them for me (I had not reached my full adult height nor my full adult girth, so that made sense, really) and my allowance was too small to even think of saving up for a $50 (or whatever they cost then) pair of jeans. (Into high school, my allowance was $2 a week, with the chance to earn an additional $2.50 in the summer if I mowed the lawn. We had an old gas-powered walking mower and nearly an acre of property....)

And I think on some level I knew that a pair of Jordaches wouldn't stop the kids from making fun of me; that they wouldn't magically make me fit in. I might have done extra chores and saved every penny that came my way and bought a pair if I had thought that. But anyway. I know people flaunting their material goods (whether it is a Bonne Bell Lip Smacker when you are eight, or a Bermuda bag when you are 11, or Jordache jeans when you are 13) that you don't have, and the slight twinge you feel at not having them. (And it's not even so much the not having them, or it wasn't for me, it was the fact that I was an Outsider and there was nothing I could do to not be an Outsider).

So I can't get worked up about the fact that some women have closets full of Lilly Pulitzer stuff and I don't. (One of the blessings of adulthood, at least in the profession where I work? No one CARES about what you wear. Oh, once in a while a colleague will see me wearing a sweater I made and go, "Did you knit that? It looks really cool." but that's as far as the caring goes, and certainly no one ever comments on your NOT having something). Would I *like* a Lilly Pulitzer or similar summer dress? Yeah, I kind of would, I like bright pastel things and pretty prints. But less because of any name attached to it than because it's a style I like. (I don't even know if they made them in my size. Some of those designer type lines, they go up only to 12s, on the grounds that it's declasse for them to have fat women wearing their clothes. Whatever.)

I will confess: I didn't even know that it's apparently a "signifier" of wealth and social class*. I just knew them as a style of dress some women wore. I guess if I were pressed I'd say I realized they were part of the "preppy" style.....but I also know people who hate the preppy style even though they could afford it, and so it seems sort of a choice thing to me. I guess I thought of the dresses as more "something Southern women wore" because it does seem, from having lived here and having lived not-here before, that women in the South are more prone to wear bright colors - and more prone to wear them later in life - than Northern women are. And I like bright colors. And I like wearing bright pastel things. Granted, most of my dresses like that are ones I made myself, but....

(*Yeah, yeah, maybe this is a supposed "unexamined privilege" thing, but as I said: I grew up "poorer" than my classmates in a town where spending on signifiers was "important," so. And other groups have other signifiers.....some of the people rejecting Lilly Pulitzer as "preppy scum" are spending heavily on the new Apple Watch and similar.)

And apparently, SOME of the outraged are angry, ANGRY that ordinary folks are going to have access to this stuff. Um, what? Anyone with internet access can order it from Zappos or somewhere. It's not so very exclusive. (And cue the "basic" commentary, that wearing LP for Target makes one a basic, uh....wench.) Again, this is people turning on people they have no reason to turn on. It doesn't hurt me or take away from me if a woman who is not-me dresses like I do (if she would even want to. I dress kind of oddly sometimes). Are there people who are really so insecure that the thought of something they like maybe being "affordable" threatens their sense of self? Crikey. If that's so, I'm glade I grew up in a just-barely-middle-class family with parents who cared more about making sure there was time for weekly library runs and who were happier about us working hard on school projects and doing well than they would have been about one of us making the coveted team or being asked out by a popular rich kid....

I don't know. This is one of those cases where I go, "Isn't life hard enough already without imagining other things to make it seem harder?"

I say, to the women who ALWAYS wore LP: God bless you and keep you. And to the women who managed to get a piece of LP for Target clothing: God also bless you and keep you. You're both human beings and what you wear doesn't really matter; who you are inside and how you treat people does.

And anyway. On a global scale, I'm doing very, very well, outrageously well, and I can't be jealous of people who have more than I do, because I have a pretty darn lot.

There are so many other things to be upset about, I can't really bring myself to be upset about this.


CGHill said...

You're trying to be sensible about this, and of course Those Louder are refusing to hear that kind of noise.

That said, this is hardly the first time Target has taken on a Big Name: they teamed up with Isaac Mizrahi in 2002 and tripled his sales. (The partnership continued for six years or so.) I really can't get a grip on why Lilly Pulitzer would be so different, unless it's that Lilly's prep buyers are much snootier than Isaac's hipsters.

Lynn said...

Who? Seriously, more proof that I REALLY don't keep up, I had never heard of Lilly Pulitzer and I have to confess to feeling a bit perversely proud of that fact. Also, whenever stuff like this comes up I can't help feeling smug that most of my clothes are actually exclusive, one-of-a-kind designer creations. (designed by me, of course) Take that, fashionistas!