Thursday, July 18, 2024

Get a Dose of Dopamine Dressing and Friendship at The Pink Retreat

It’s 10:30 on a Thursday morning and the dock of a West Palm Beach marina has become a fashion runway of sorts.

Gaggles of women of all ages, decked out in a dizzying kaleidoscope of Lilly Pulitzer prints, are boarding the Motunui catamaran for a private sight-seeing cruise. As the boat begins its slow parade down the waterway, the music escalates, and a dance party breaks out—the colorful show catching the eyes of every passing boater in the normally subdued waters off Palm Beach Island.

Even if you couldn’t hear us coming, you certainly couldn’t miss the sea of Lilly.

It’s my first activity of the day at The Pink Retreat, an annual girlfriends’ getaway created by mompreneur Tosha Williams and presented in partnership with Discover the Palm Beaches, now in its fifth year. The retreat is built around friendship—nurturing old ones and forming new ones—and a zealous love for happy, mood-boosting clothing, notably Lilly Pulitzer. (Think of it as a Lilly convention, but instead of boring meeting rooms, you’re intermingling with other like-minded Lilly-lovers to shop, play and recharge at the three-day event.)

As gals flutter about the boat, snapping pictures to the sounds of popping Champagne bottles, I do a quick “roll call” of where everyone is from: “Indiana! Virginia! Michigan! Maryland! Kansas! Pennsylvania!” were a few of the quick answers. “I just love the time here with all of my friends, and meeting all the new people,” says one second-time retreat guest from Indiana, adding, “and all the shopping and time on the beach.”

The Pink Retreat attendees aboard the Motunui catamaran for a private sight-seeing cruise. (Photo courtesy Angela Caraway-Carlton)

As a Lilly lover myself, with about 30 or so pieces in my closet, these ladies put me to shame. The iconic Lilly Pulitzer brand is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, and the 500 ladies attending this year’s retreat were sporting a dizzying array of rare vintage pieces to the newest collection in every pattern and silhouette. When I ask Barbara Bengston from Pennsylvania how many Lilly pieces she personally owns, her answer shocked me. “Probably two-to-four thousand pieces,” she says, prompting me to ask where in the Lilly-land does she store it all. “I keep them in every closet of my house and thank goodness my husband is a saint. Sometimes I will trade them for another size or sell them. You always need a lot of Lilly and a lot of options.” (If my husband is reading this, take note: I think we all need a patron saint of fashion in our homes.)

Writer and Lilly Pulitzer enthusiast Angela Caraway-Carlton attends her first Pink Retreat.

While I zipped up to Palm Beach on the Brightline train by myself, many of The Pink Retreat attendees brought along their best girlfriends for a much-needed vacation sans kids or husbands; the majority of them had previously met through Lilly-obsessed social media groups or other events. As a first timer, I can’t express how welcoming everyone was to this newbie throughout the weekend. New attendees are given green nametag lanyards to wear at events (I’m told that past guests are encouraged to seek out newcomers and welcome them); and those who’ve attended before sport pink lanyards. Proof of the retreat’s genuine sisterhood: Every time I was alone at an event, beginning on the catamaran ride, someone asked me to come sit with them or join their group.

Throughout The Pink Retreat weekend, there were plenty of parties meant for mingling, as well as pop-up shopping events. Some of the attendee-favored vendors include The Sparkled Shell—I spotted countless ladies with arms dripping in the iridescent candy-colored bracelets—and the over-the-top fascinators by Vee Herman from Parkland, which were perfect for the retreat’s Gilded Age-style tea at the stunning Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.

The schedule for The Pink Retreat can be as packed or as loose as attendees desire, with many of the events showcasing the area’s best talent and storied landmarks. I took part in the aforementioned catamaran cruise—which sailed past Palm Beach’s glitzy mansions and yachts—and also joined a tassel making class with Delray Beach fashion designer Amanda Perna, where we learned the tedious art of cutting and shaping a tassel that would accentuate an adorable straw bag given to participants. Other offered events included a guided food tour with West Palm Beach Food Tour; a Lilly-inspired shift cookie-making class at Ganache Bakery; and a croquet class at The National Croquet Center, where ironically attendees were encouraged to wear all-white attire. I donned one of my best pink Lilly frocks for the afternoon tea at the Flagler Museum manse, where it was another fashion showcase of best-dressed ladies in hats and fascinators. With a dramatic backdrop of Flagler’s historic Railcar No. 91 and dappled light flowing through floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the water, we noshed on scones, tea sandwiches and other treats while sipping pink lemonade and tea.

The Pink Retreat guests had a chance to attend a tassel-making workshop with Delray Beach designer, Amanda Perna (center). (Photo courtesy Angela Caraway-Carlton)

The scene at this year’s host hotel, the resort-style The Hilton West Palm Beach, was just as bright and colorful with throngs of ladies decked out in Lilly bathing suits and coverups lounging at the expansive poolscape. The posh lobby also became a gathering place for most to meet before taking off for an activity-packed day (I also spotted an impromptu slumber party with ladies dressed in their pajamas on the lobby couches – bless you, Hilton!). That’s where I met Nicole Dantuono-Regalbuto of Boca Raton, who was wearing a vintage 1970s Lilly dress. “This is the best sisterhood of Lilly-loving ladies, we all have the same attitude. We welcome everyone,” she told me before jetting off to tea.

Now that everyone has left South Florida for their respective homes, I feel like I need another dopamine hit of color, and their refreshing doses of authentic friendliness.

Angela Caraway-Carlton
Angela Caraway-Carlton
With an insatiable passion for discovering new destinations and adventure, Angela Caraway-Carlton is a South Florida-based freelance journalist who focuses on travel, luxury lifestyle trends, design and beauty/wellness. For a decade, she produced the popular lifestyle segment “Style File” at WSVN-Channel 7 in Miami, and now contributes to local and national publications including the Miami Herald, Luxe Interiors Miami + Palm Beach, Venice Fort Lauderdale, Gulfshore Life, Modern Luxury, Good Grit and more. She is an on-air travel host for YachtLife TV. Follow along on her adventures at @AwayWithAngelaCC.

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