JEN AND LILLY; A TIMELINE, A QUEST, AND THE GREATEST FIRSTWORLD PROBLEM MAN HAS EVER ENDURED
October 1980 – The Preppy Handbook is published. I am twelve and am yet to understand the concept of satire, no matter how lovingly delivered. I take everything Lisa Birnbach writes as a profound truth, so when she says that Lilly Pulitzer is “key,” I don’t doubt a word. I pledge to find some, and right quick.
October 1980 – You know who doesn’t have the access to or the funds to buy Lilly Pulitzer at twelve years old in Huntington, IN? This gal. Instead, I content myself with $15 alligator shirts bought with my dollar-an-hour babysitting cash at the golf pro shop.
October 1980 – Also, none of my friends will call me “Muffy,” no matter how much I beg. Make long-term plans to find new friends.
June 1990 – I spend the summer living in Boston and, for the first time, I witness actual people wearing really Lilly togs. Now I finally have access to Lilly, but still, no cash. Instead, I spend the entire summer haunting the shoe department, demanding to know when they’re getting the Kelly green, boat-shoe-soled Keds I saw in a magazine. They arrive the day before I leave for Indiana. Life is good, despite not owning a shift dress festooned in splashy citrus colors.
Mid 1990s – Yeah, still at college. Only now I wear Birkenstocks, which would look hella stupid with a shift dress that I couldn’t afford anyway. I forget about Lilly.
Late 1990s – I work for an insurance company after college, calling on physicians on the North Shore of Chicago. I visit the town of Lake Forest for the first time, delighting in the memory that this place is also “key,” according to Birnbach. I spot lots of free-range Lilly on the street and I’m charmed by the cacophony of pinks, greens, and yellows. But it’s still too expensive; it’s like Lilly and I are destined to never be together.
Early to mid 2000s - A bunch of shit happens, none of it good, unless you like to read memoirs, in which case, do I have some unhappy stories for you! Acquiring Lilly takes a backseat to trying to pay my gas bill with a voucher from the CoinStar.
August 2009 – I visit the Hamptons for the first time, and now, twenty-nine years and a few best selling books later, I can finally afford to invest in a couple of Lilly dresses.
Except I am too fat to fit into them.
Oh, and no one sells Lilly fabric bigger than one-yard strips, so I can’t even bribe my crafty friends to sew me a plus-size version.
August 2009 to January 2015 – I do the plus-size walk of shame through the Lilly department to ogle the goods and buy the occasional accessory. Damn, but the scarves’ colors and patterns seem made for me.
January 2015 – Target announces a partnership with Lilly Pulitzer, which is set to include plus-size. I scream with so much joy that I lose my voice. Over-privileged sorority girls and plus-size bloggers alike are appalled, for very different reasons. The bloggers are pissed because the plus items will only be sold on line, which is yet another insult as Target seems to consider bigger women and pregnant women to be one and the same. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t.) The Millennial sorority girls are pissed because now they’re going to look like the poors, and then how will everyone know that THEY have the kind of indulgent mommies and daddies who pay for their college educations AND delightful shift dresses? To the bloggers, I say, “I feel you, and yet…” and to the sorority girls, I say, “MORE FOR ME.”
January 2015 – I undergo Achilles rupture repair surgery. While this has nothing to do with expensive cotton dresses directly, it becomes relevant shortly.
March 2015 – The Lilly + Target Look Book is released and I immediately favorite sixty-six items, including the dresses I’ve wanted so badly for so long. I pay off one of my credit cards and set it aside so that when the time comes, I will be ready.
April 2015 – I begin to cross off days in my Lilly planner. April 19th can’t come fast enough.
April 2015 – I am now down seventy pounds since August and I make my first non-accessory-based Lilly purchase. The dress is too tight, but hopefully not for long, as I’ve been deeply committed to getting healthier and smaller. In the interim, I look forward to wearing the shit out of Target + Lilly, especially for the price point.
April 18th, 2015 – I make a paper list of everything I want, prioritized by how much I want it. I cannot believe I’ll finally have something Lilly that I can wear right-chicken-now other than a shoe, a bag, or a scarf. I scour the web for tips on how to score the most merch, and set up my Target.comprofile accordingly. I learn that even if you place an item in your cart, it’s not yours until you pay for it. I don’t want to lose out on a thirty-five year quest because I’ve fat-fingered my address.
April 18th, 2015 – I web-chat with a Target.com rep to find out what time the items will be available online after never being able to connect with anyone on their 800 number.
I don’t understand why Target.com won’t let me pre-order, or why I can’t transfer my Look Book favorites to my cart, but, whatever.
I trust Target. Target knows what it’s doing.
A few years ago, I had dinner with Target’s book buying reps and I learned a ton about the company. (That is, when I wasn’t having a heated argument with them over whether or not Don Knotts was gay.) I learned that each buyer spends a rotation purchasing for a different region of the store, so those doing books now might be in charge of housewares or electronics on the next round. Their inventory-management systems are sophisticated to the point they can predict the success of a product based on a single item in a single store in an hour’s time.
Really? Their algorithms are freaking amazing.
Yet this explains why there’s been so little plus in the stores when it used to be plentiful. I imagine a buyer who didn’t know how plus clothes should fit was cycled into the rotation and his or her picks didn’t sell, likely because this buyer didn’t opt for sturdier, more flattering fabrics which drape better or for tops that cover the hips. Newsflash – most bigger girls don’t want belly-shirts. So, when consumers didn’t buy the lighter fabrics and hip-skimming garb, that told Target that plus women didn’t shop there, so they carried less and we subsequently bought less, to the point that their plus department morphed into two sad racks of basics, often accidentally mixed with maternity-wear. Again, NOT THE SAME THING.
April 18th, 2015, 11:39 PM – “You going to bed?” Fletch asks. “No,” I reply, “I’m going to stay up until I can place my order online when the site goes live.” He says, “Ha, what are you going to do, stay up all night?” I reply, “Of course not! I’m going to set my alarm to wake and check every hour until dawn.” I mean, what am I, a college student pulling an all-nighter because she never read her Bio textbook?
11:59 PM – Fletch comes into my office to say, “Hey, I just saw something interesting on a new family tree leaf. Apparently I’m descended from-” to which I reply, “THE SITE MIGHT GO LIVE ANY SECOND, NO TALKING, I NEED TO CONCENTRATE!”
April 19th, 2015,12:05 AM – Social media reports that the site won’t go live until 12:00 AM PST. I consider going to bed, but who am I kidding? No kid can sleep on Christmas Eve, especially if it’s possible that Santa might appear early.
Also, it’s already abundantly clear that I am a college student about to pull an all-nighter because I never read my Bio textbook.
12:06 AM - I have now refreshed the web page twenty times in the past minute and have my iPad and phone at hand, just in case. The woman who looks like Tracey Ellis Roth remains ever vigilant on the Look Book page.
12:07 AM – Social media reports that some links are coming online, but I don’t see them, no matter how quickly I refresh. TRACEE ELLIS ROTH DOPPLEGANGER, WHY ARE YOU TAUNTING ME?
12:08 AM – I start clicking the posted Twitter links, willing to chance that this is a scam, and end up grabbing two pair of sandals, three shift dresses, and the one weird satin piece that I don’t even like because I’ve already been whipped into a thirty-five-year-brewing kind of frenzy. But I am not going to content myself with the fat-girl consolation prizes of scarves and bags, okay?
I want a shift dress that fits me right now. While I begin the checkout process, everything but the shoes and the weird piece disappear because I wasn’t fast enough, damn it!
12:09 AM – I click again and again, trying to check out as I load new items in my cart, but I keep getting the Target dog with the bull’s-eye, which is basically the new Fail Whale. Hate this dog so much. Also, hate Tracee Ellis Roth by osmosis.
12:10 AM – The links suddenly show items as unavailable. Pieces are already selling out and the site’s not even technically live yet. Is the demand truly this great? In my head, I knew it would be, but in the real world? Wouldn’t Target have anticipated the demand and planned accordingly? How can this be? The Twitter-verse begins to lose its collective mind as the hashtag LillyforTarget trends.
12:11 AM – Almost every tweet in my timeline is either the fortunate few who’ve been able to place orders or the bulk of everyone else who hasn’t. The panic is already palpable. In my head, I congratulate Target’s PR team because this is an unmitigated success with all the brand-awareness, while at the same time I curse the IT team.
Agony! Ecstasy! Shift dresses!
12:12 AM – Thousands of women just like me are going through the exact rollercoaster of emotions right now. One of the big draws of blogging back in the day was the appeal of “finding one’s tribe.” And, if the trending #LillyforTarget users are any indication, with their jokes of this being the preppy woman’s Hunger Games, it appears I’ve found mine.
12:13 AM – I discover tweets from my new best friend, Jason Goldberger. He’s the president of Target.com. He assures everyone that the links shouldn’t have been leaked and that online buying has been halted. He confirms that we can shop at 2:00 AM and the full inventory will be available. YAY!! The sensible person would try to get some sleep now, but I am not accidentally missing out on a thirty-five-year odyssey because I couldn’t wake from a freaking nap.
12:14 AM – I have a moment of perspective, realizing that my life won’t be over if I don’t get what I want, despite my impeccable planning and budgeting. I mean, I joined Gwynnie Bee and now I have access to unlimited cute dresses all-damn-day-long. Plus, as a new size sixteen, I can even buy dresses in the not-plus section now depending on the store.
Also, we live in a world where hunger, poverty, homelessness, war, melting polar ice caps, and Lindsay Lohan playing Liz Taylor are the true disasters, so I try to keep my freak out to a minimum.
I am wholly unsuccessful.
12:15 AM to 1:59 AM – Obsessively refreshing Target.com and reading the hastagged tweets. ALL OF YOU PEOPLE SHOULD BE MY FRIENDS. Suddenly, bonding over a terrible sports team makes sense. At this point, I realize I’m trying to buy Lilly without wearing my pearls (despite being in my jammies) and I immediately right the situation. Clearly, I needed my talisman. But I’m still panicking, despite my dose of perspective a moment earlier, however brief.
While I have full confidence in Target’s abilities, a part of me worries that the site will crash the minute everyone logs on. I tweet to Jason Goldberger that this had best work or he’s going to experience the wrath of angry, preppy, fat women wielding pitchforks in Minneapolis. He does not respond, but I give him a pass, assuming he’s a tad busy. I appreciate his transparency, so there’s that. TargetStyle assures me (by me, I mean everyone) that all is well and the wait will be worth it.
2:00 AM – Site is not live.
2:01 AM – Site is not live.
2:02 AM – Site is not live and now my coming completely and utterly unhinged has frightened the dog.
2:03 AM – AHHHH!!! I’M IN!!! LET’S DO THIS.
I click on a few items at a time, grabbing the pieces I want most, knowing the smartest way to go is to check out after every few items. From what I understand, online buyers are only able to get five items of the same style to keep people from sweeping up everything and then selling it all on eBay. Well, good. I’m glad because hoarding is horseshit. Sure, it’s capitalism, but it’s also super-douchey and terrible karma. The whole point of this exercise is to get something awesome on the cheap. Why would anyone want to pay full price for outlet quality when you could just get the real thing? Happy with the few shift dresses and the Nosie Posey shirt, I click to check out. And all the contents of my cart go poof.
Into the ether.
2:04 AM – I simultaneously try to shop on my phone, iPad, and desktop using two browsers. Poof! Poof! Poof, poof! Everything’s gone! And now the light blue dress is legit sold out! Target, why is this happening? Did your marketing department even TALK to the IT guys? Give ‘em a head’s up?
Didn’t anyone prepare for this at Target corporate?
This already feels as dumb as the time the stores covered all of the big red balls outside with fabric that made them look like beach balls. Said covers only lasted a day, at least at my local store, because they were practically begging to be kicked in that state, only for the kicker to discover they were solid cement. (P.S. I know where to buy the best protective boot, in case it ever happens again.)
2:05 AM – And… now the website has crashed. Where’s my pitchfork, Jason Goldberger? Except Target won’t say it’s crashed; they use Orwellian doublespeak to say they’re “optimizing the experience.” Newsflash – MY EXPERIENCE IS THE OPPOSITE OF OPTIMAL RIGHT NOW, BITCHES. And if they know how much Tide to buy for the whole company based on one shelf in Lima, Ohio, I have to wonder why they’re so grossly unprepared for this. Their reaction is like those folks who are perpetually surprised that it’s Christmas already – do these people not own a calendar?
2:06 to 2:31 AM – Make it work. Pleeeeeease. Jason Goldberger, I’m begging you, make it work. I do not tweet “I AM GOOGLING WHERE YOU LIVE AND SHARPENING MY PITCHFORK, GOLDBERG” because, crazy, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking it.
Seriously, Jason Goldberger; I thought you were cool.
I refresh the page every three seconds. Nothing. I should just go to bed and cut my losses, leaving early for the store tomorrow. Maybe I can get XLs in the store and they’ll eventually fit? Or I could just buy shoes and scarves and bags, like always.
Like fucking always.
2:32 AM – Aha! In again! I grab a few of the key items and check out before the whole thing goes down again like so many over privileged Millennial sorority girls. (Listen up, ladies, – for all your grousing, for all your posturing, for all your ‘it’s not REAL Lilly quality’ and ‘I would never buy tampons and dresses in the same place,’ I KNOW YOU’RE HERE, TOO, OR ELSE THE DAMN WEBSITE WOULDN’T HAVE CRASHED.)
Yet I am finally able to execute a small purchase!! Success!
2:33 AM – Or is it a success? How come I’m not getting a confirmation email?
2:34 AM – Seriously, where’s my email?
2:35 AM – And what if I don’t even like how shift dresses look on me?
2:36 AM – And why is the site down again? ARGH.
2:37 AM – Do I just go to bed? (Please, like I could even sleep with all this adrenaline coursing through me.) Or am I committed and I should soldier on? I really did want some scarves and bags, not in lieu of the clothes, but in addition. I’ve seen the Dog of Despair so many times that Spuds McKenzie-type bull terriers will forever be a trigger for me going forward.
And, you, Tracee Ellis Ross? You’re on notice.
2:38 AM – Fill cart, cart disappears. Dog of Despair.
2:45 AM – Fill cart, cart disappears. Dog of Despair.
2:59 AM – Fill cart, cart disappears. Dog of Despair.
3:01 AM – Confirmation email appears and my own dog hides again when I begin yelping.
And then the site goes down.
3:10 AM – TargetStyle blames the snafu on “overwhelming excitement.” I can’t imagine how they didn’t see this coming. Again, they know everything in regard to predicting their customers’ behavior. How’d they so miss the mark here? I mean, the plan couldn’t have been to hype everyone up, release a tiny amount of product, and let everyone then twist in the wind, because how could that possibly be good business?
3:11 AM – Again, I am sorry, polar bears, for being more concerned about festive prints and affordable pricing than the environment. Ditto for Syria. Tomorrow, I will be a good person, concerned for and engaged in the world around me. But tonight, I will be a deranged, pajama-wearing, pearl-clad lunatic who is incapable of any thought, save for, “Refresh! Refresh! Refresh! I hate you, Tracee Ellis Ross!”
3:17 AM – Ha! Back up, back in, and I complete one final transaction for clothes. Okay. This is good. I can live with this. Didn’t get everything I wanted, but that just means there’s more for all the other late-nighters. I’d planned on going to Target in the morning but now I revise my plan, seeing the frenzy. I’m going to leave at first light, so I will try to catch a couple of hours of sleep.
3:18 AM – I get in bed with The Royal We, by the Fug Girls. They are the opposite of Target right now, as they’ve under-promised and over-delivered. I love this book. But I can’t sleep. Too keyed up.
3:35 AM – Wide awake.
3:45 AM – Wide awake.
4:00 AM – Wide awake. So I should probably see if I could buy some plates, as I’m up.
4:01 AM – Wide awake, 500-server error. Not even a dog this time.
4:30 AM – Wide awake, 500-server error. Begin screaming at the screen, “Take my money, God damn it! Why won’t you take my money?”
5:00 AM – Wide awake, back up, but items keep disappearing from my cart. I want to kick the Target dog every time he tells me my cart is empty. I want to kick him HARD. I want to “take him to a farm” where he can “live with a nice family.”
As for Jason Goldberger?
Vanished from social media like so many pineapple serving bowls.
5:30 AM – Site is back and fully operational… and sold out of EVERYTHING.
Screw it, I’m having breakfast and getting dressed.
6:35 AM – Arrive at Target in Vernon Hills. I’d planned on going to a Target a little further away, but I don’t know the layout of that store, so I figured I’d lose valuable time trying to find stuff.
I’m not the first person in line, BTW.
6:35 AM to 7:58 AM – Everyone talks and makes friends, each person sharing what they love about Lilly. One woman tells us that she had a quilt made from all her daughter’s old Lilly dresses and she could look at every scrap of fabric and remember her daughter at that age. She even was able to get a shot of the quilt to Lilly herself before she passed on last year. I suspect her daughter is not one of the over privileged assholes from Twitter. The mood is light and convivial, likely because we’re at the head of the line and know we’ll at least end up with something, as that seems less and less likely for most.
Is worth noting that the blonde to brunette ratio here is 10:1. And every car in the lot is a newish SUV.
7:59 AM – We take position at the front door, much to the employees’ amusement and the confusion of a couple of old guys who happened to need to make an early Target run for foot powder and Tums.
8:00 AM – And speaking of running, the doors open and everyone runs.
We all run.
I forget for a minute that I’m wearing an Achilles cast. Shit, WHY AM I RUNNING? I should not run. Running is really, really dumb. My physical therapist is going to murder me. And yet, the crowd crushes in behind me and I realize that if I want a damn thing, and if I don’t care to be trampled under so many Wellies and ballet flats, I will need to pick up the pace. I dash to accessories and nab two purses and one overnight bag, and with that, the whole display is cleared.
Wait, how is there only one of each of these items? Shouldn’t there be, like, so many more?
8:01 AM – The accessories area is decimated, as is the clothing rack. Wait, there’s only one rack of adult dresses? For this many people?
8:02 AM – Is this how everyone on the Titanic felt when they counted the lifeboats?
8:03 AM – I grab the last set of glasses from the now-empty housewares display.
8:04 AM – Gone. It’s all gone.
I check out, having picked up the purse, overnight bag, and a scarf I really wanted, along with two chairs and the glasses. Most weren’t so lucky. The only reason I got the chairs is because the nice quilt lady offered them to me after I gave her one of the two bags I’d grabbed. Really, I didn’t need both.
Outside of the running into the store, I didn’t see any terrible behavior, any shoving or elbows being thrown, or any single person sweeping everything into her cart in order to list on eBay later. Really, no one could have – the inventory didn’t exist. What I saw was a bunch of Lilly devotees, thrilled at the opportunity to score a less expensive slice of the pink and green pie.
8:44 AM – I’m home and ready to get into bed, reflecting on how badly the last nine hours went. I felt awful for the bulk of the shoppers who were walking around shell-shocked, with nothing in their carts. They came to stock up, they stood in line before opening, and they left empty-handed. I know life isn’t fair, and it can be argued that since I had a few items, and not just one, I was part of the problem.
But I don’t understand not making the hype and the inventory commensurate.
(Then again, I have a Liberal Arts degree.)
I grasp how limited supplies build buzz, but couldn’t Target have doubled or tripled the stock and still gotten the same results? Or were the Lilly products considered a loss leader and the whole thing rolled out exactly to plan?
I send out my final tweet on the debacle, speculating on the above. I fall asleep not having any idea if the orders I managed to place will be fulfilled, or, if I’ll LIKE the products once I receive them. I never actually felt any of the material, or even saw the garments in real life. I haven’t a clue as to the fit, either. But I’m relatively sure that whatever I receive, it won’t measure up to thirty-five years of anticipation and nine straight hours of pure focus.
Because nothing could.
Over the next twenty-four hours, my last tweet is featured on USA Today, CNN, and the Today show online. Oh, the irony of spending months trying to promote my new memoir, only to land national coverage by freaking out over #LillyforTarget.
The news keeps reporting on how the website “almost crashed” which makes me think Target’s definition of “crashed” differs greatly from my own. BTW, it’s been radio silent on both TargetStyle’s twitter and Jason Goldberger’s. The only apology they’ve offered is that of being sorry that we were frustrated, which, argh. The “I’m sorry you feel that way” nonsense is often worse than no apology at all.
Looks more and more like despite the backlash, despite the angry pitchfork-wielding women, despite the utter waste of time and effort on so many of our parts, the Target execs knew exactly what they were doing because they couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.
And Lilly Pulitzer’s parent company’s stock skyrocketed today.
So Target’s happy.
And the folks at Lilly corporate are happy.
And the eBay re-sellers? Well, they’re REALLY happy selling items at a higher price than they’d get for Lilly proper.
The only losers are the devoted consumers, especially those of us who are plus sized, or on a budget.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t like when I lose perspective and I clearly lost it – and my mind - during this endeavor. Here’s the thing – I am a fan of Lilly’s clothes. I’ve wanted her dresses for a long time. But these are not the end-all, be-all of my existence and I’m mad that I allowed myself to be swept up in the whole fiasco. I’m sure there are weeks, no, months, that I don’t think about Lilly. (I think this time is called “winter.”)
So why did I become obsessed?
Likely the fault is my own, and not Target’s.
And that’s fine. I own it.
So the next time I want to buy tampons, foot powder, or Tums? I hope I remember how frustrating this has been.
But I probably won’t.