Is Lilly Appropriate For The Office?

Hello-hello, we hope you are enjoying a splendid week!

Today we share a fashion item that we found interesting, a piece in Monday’s Careerist blog titled “Lilly Pulitzer at the Law Firm.”

Lilly Pulitzer via The Careerist

For years we have seen the topic debated: is Lilly work-appropriate? This story addresses the issue as it relates to legal firms, it is written by Vivia Chen, who knows her stuff. Not only is she chief blogger for the Careerist, her bio notes she has been covering the “business and culture of law firms for a decade”. From the post:

Nine months of the year I’m cloaked in grays, black, and occasionally a dash of purple. It’s the New York uniform. It can take you to the office, a corporate cocktail party, or a memorial service for the senior partner. (Come to think of it, “funeral chic” describes a lot of law firm attire.)

But come summer I transform into someone decidedly unManhattanish: the Lilly Pulitzer girl. Unabashedly bright and nauseatingly cheery, Lilly Pulitzer prints don’t reflect my true personality at all. But for reasons that would take a Freudian analyst to explain, I can’t resist them this time of the year. I own about two dozen Lillys, and I can’t get enough of them.

Now, truth be told, yours truly lived in black when doing TV, with occasional pops of pink as well as the sporadic white contrast piece. (Early on when an intern and junior staffer I did wear bright colors, but we’re talking later in the career.) While many would argue that television is a creative field with plenty of room for personal expression via one’s wardrobe, you did not see me in Lilly in the office. Why not? Because I was in management. It wasn’t done.

As we changed stations and migrated back east and then moved about as far west as one can go the dress code loosened. When on the west coast I remember being… well, let’s just say I was ‘concerned’ when I realized that some female employees were not wearing hose. Oh, the horror. (Insert smirk.) Fortunately someone counseled me before I did anything, deterring any imposition of any sort of silly-dress-code-that-only-a-new-person-would-dream-up.

Life and lifestyles vary hugely in different parts of the country, and are even more broadly mixed depending upon one’s chosen industry. The dress code is further defined by the position one occupies within a place of business, but there really are not nearly so many absolutes about office attire these days.  Back to Ms. Chen’s story:

Luckily, I no longer have to stand out as the oddity in pink, green, and yellow, because wild prints are all the rage right now. Almost everywhere you look—J. Crew, Kate Spade, Jason Wu, Altuzarra—flashy, splashy prints abound. So the issue is this: How far can you go in sporting bright, loud designs while still maintaining professional dignity?

In my field—journalism/blogging—what’s acceptable as office wear is a nonissue.

Below, several Lily looks via the Zappos blog. Blog

Clearly we’re not speaking about something like the shorts shown in the montage above. The debate is about dresses, tops and pants in Lilly’s splashy prints and bold colors, the very things that make Lilly “Lilly”.

I know several practicing attorneys who would not even contemplate wearing Lilly in the office. Wouldn’t consider it. They are in positions of influence, working in firms located on the east coast and in the midwest. Others who work in the southeast and southern California have worn it to the office, culturally it is a different ballgame where they are working. A friend who is in the corporate offices of a large financial firm would not wear it, but you do see sleeveless, or short-sleeved pieces in bold patterns on any number of personnel in the branch offices.

Ms. Chen offers some insight from those who specialize in workplace fashions, and then adds this:
Personally, I think you should dispense with the gradual approach and self-analysis. I say go whole hog with the crazy florals. If you are in the mood to wear an over-the-top print in the summer—assuming that the dress is simply cut and not too revealing—what’s the downside? It will probably make you cheerier—and maybe even lighten up the sullen souls around you.
Really, what law office couldn’t benefit from a dose of gutsy color?
You may read Ms. Chen’s entire post by clicking here, our pal Lisa at Amid Privilege offers a stellar perspective on office attire as well, in particular this post and this post resonate.
Ultimately it is like any other career decision: it depends upon your personal situation and your comfort zone. And while Lilly may epitomize a “fashion no-no” for a limited number of people, there are far worse fashion crimes committed constantly every day. Like at Royal Ascot today.

I’m curious to know your thoughts? Are you in an industry where Lilly is fine for the office?



Filed under preppy

19 responses to “Is Lilly Appropriate For The Office?

  1. Not to be tres cliche, but I tend to go by the “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” rule. My current boss is excluded from this because she dresses in sequins and thigh-high boots {no joke}. I think sooooo much of it depends on your office culture. If you see the women above you in the office wearing Lilly on casual Fridays, by all means, go for it. But I think, at least at my age, if the higher-ups are dressing conservatively, then I should too.

  2. complicatedfabulous

    Before I stopped working to stay at home full time, I was in fundraising and politics. In Florida and for a time in Palm Beach proper. I would have never considered wearing Lilly to work unless it was a social function where resort wear would be appropriate. And I LOVE me some LILLY!

  3. I work in a creative work environment (think shorts, flipflops, and tank tops on most people) so I can enjoy all the Lilly I want. But I used to be in a conservative work environment. In that situation, I think that a solid Lilly sheath dress with metallic piping or some accessorizing would be fine on casual Fridays. Otherwise, save the wild, fun, colorful patterns for after work.

  4. Amanda

    I actually am an intern at the district Attorneys office and I took the risk and wore Lilly to work twice. Once my color block dress with a white blazer on Lilly day and then I have one other outfit that I have worn a few times. It is just a Lilly shirt but I always feel better wearing a Lilly! I have attached a link to a picture of what I wore, I actually got compliments from some of the attorneys in the office!

  5. What a great post! I guess I never really think about if Lilly is appropriate for the office, since I’m a stay at home mom. But I’m sure if I were in an office, I’d be a splash of bright colors everyday. It’s got to be good for the office’s morale, right???

  6. It totally depends on the office. Personally, I think a lot of the Lilly dresses are too short for most office environments, especially if you want to be taken seriously. I couldn’t imagine someone angling for a partnership position at a law firm wearing a short Lilly shift to the office. But if you’re in a creative field where anything goes, sure!

  7. Anonymous

    If you own the office, Lilly is appropriate if you say so.

  8. I am an engineer, and the ONLY female engineer at my company and I wear Lilly all day most days. Wearing colorful things is who I am and well I honestly don’t think I could work for a company that did not accept me for who I am. Also I love people who are snarky and say to “dress for the job you want” engineers wear jeans. If you think you have to wear a suit ever day to be an engineer you need to find a new job

  9. Love this post. I’ve appropriately rocked out Lilly in a lobbying firm, the Republican National Committee, Capitol Hill and now a public affairs firm. Granted it’s not for every work occasion, every day, but I think there’s a tasteful way to incorporate it into almost any workplace. But head-to-toe Lilly everyday… not a fan of that.

  10. Anonymous

    I love, love, love Lilly and if I lived in a resort area I would wear it everyday. However, living in a conservative, upper middle class suburb of Atlanta, I just don’t see many wearing Lilly, with the exception of young mothers (mommy and me) or sorority gals…. More JCrew/Talbots/Brooks Brothers/
    Banana Republic around here.

    It is interesting to think about the statement that wearing Lilly makes. Not quite sure if it means empowerment or not. Maybe moreso – fun, vivacious, carefree…

  11. Milly

    I do wear Lilly to work (I’m an attorney). While I wouldn’t wear any of the 3 dresses above, I think there are a few styles that are appropriate for work. I wear the Fiona, the Sally, the Jonah and sometimes the Keelan on Fridays (if I don’t have meetings, as it is shorter than most work clothes). I also sometimes wear my elsas with skirts. Today I am actually wearing the Colby, which is probably about as loud I go, but hey… the men are alllowed to wear golf shirts, so this is my version of a casual friday 😉

  12. ABSOLUTELY…I work in real estate and live in Charleston. I’m pretty sure its almost expected:).

  13. You are so spot on Princess. This stuff is all culturally relative. And your readers who point out that you need to look around in choosing your work garb, yes, that’s it exactly. For Gracie, it’s true now and always has been that engineers who can master the black art of technology get a bye on dress codes:). Thank you for the gracious mention.

  14. Little Red

    I work as a software developer in a business casual environment at one of the many contracting firms around the DC Beltway. Me wearing one of my Lilly’s to work makes me the most stylish person at the office in a sea of men dressed in jeans/chinos with a polo shirt.

  15. When I was a practicing attorney (10 years!) first for a Wall Street firm and then in-house at Sotheby’s, I always wore clothes with color– I am just not an all black/gray dresser. And I’m confident I Always looked appropriate. As for Lilly– I think it really depends on your schedule for the day and the dress. — some of the prints clearly are too casual— but I see no reason why others– perhaps the more subtle ones— could not go to work. I have a 3 quarter length sleeve white number that would look plenty dressed with the right jewelry and shoes!

  16. How interesting!! I often am wondering what amounts of Lilly I can get away with at work. I work in corporate for one of the biggest banks in America and was surprised by my office’s business casual dresscode. Some people really push it with wearing things that might not be work attire, so I try to always be modest, however I have a few Lilly blouses I will wear with Chinos, and Jack Rogers, and this is perfectly acceptable. Most of my Lilly’s are above the knee, but I’d wear a knee length on casual friday. I wouldn’t wear Lilly all day every day because I might get tired of it, but it is definitely a brand I love and adore… I do think that as I move up in the company, I’ll be wearing mostly J. Crew and Brooks Brothers.

  17. Funny enough, never in a million years would I have worn Lilly to the law office in sunny Southern California. It simply wasn’t done. We young associates were all dour navy and Ann Taylor seriousness at the time, as were the partners. Particularly as young women trying to advance in a traditional, male-dominated profession, anything too frilly or “feminine” (except for skirt suits, which were considered more appropriate than pant suits in some offices, strangely) was frowned upon.

    It was only in coming to Texas and taking an in-house position, where that tech-y, corporate casual was the norm (and I ran my own department of one :-), that I began trotting out colorful casual like this in the summer.

  18. Pink&Grn4Ever

    I began wearing Lilly after I was diagnosed with cancer. At first, to the oncologist’s office to cheer up other patients’ which always worked. Both men & women commented on my hot pink and lime green ensembles for years. I was famous for it. I would accomplish this by stocking up at the end of the season 50% off sale after the season was ver–Lilly was my uniform and my armor.. It lifted my spirits. I gave my doctors ties and dared them to wear them; even a strait-laced radiologist who was head of Lab/IMRT department at the University of Florida who only wore bow ties got one and bravely wore it. All the patients laughed.
    I wish I could say I don’t wear Lilly anymore, that I’ve been cured but I just went through treatment last week for my second recurrence of kidney cancer. Prior to that, I had a head & neck cancer repeat
    8 times. I still wear some but I just can’t afford it.
    When I sold printing, I wore lots of Lilly. But mostly, a navy blazer, Prada loafers without socks or Stubbs and Woottons’ slippers, an oxford cloth shirt and a wild scarf–usually Pucci or something from the Met Museum as I have to cover the speaking valve at the base of my neck. I also wear Chanel, or Lillys, anything wildly colorful. I have several Hermes scarves but they’re so large, half the scarf ends up down my back. So what’s the point?
    After all in printing, one is essentially selling color. But I never wore Lilly dresses or sandals. I thought sandals were too unprofessional. And the dresses gave the appearance, I was the client, not the vendor. That’s my angle on it for what it’s worth.

  19. Here in the Tampa area, I have worked in marketing for both a Fortune 500 company and a very small business with business casual dress codes. Most people wore things more suited to the beach or a night club and certainly not anything I deemed appropriate for an office. I opted for chinos, polos, twin sets and knee length skirts, most of the time. A few times a month I would wear my Lilly or a brightly colored madras skirt, usually on Fridays when everyone else wore jeans and t-shirts. It was a bit funny as my co-workers at the Fortune 500 company weren’t crazy about my preppy wardrobe and would joke about holding “Dress Like Wendy” days. Still, I popped my collars and proudly sported my Lilly.

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