They say some things never go out of style, and the dotted print is no exception. New York fashion designer Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss explains the lingering fascination, “It’s almost like a neutral print. I think it’s something that’s universally liked.” Polka dots truly are timeless, and they’re continuously being refreshed and reinvented, reaffirming the love that’s been making us completely dotty for over a century.
First, it was a dance craze; a simple, lively spin that bounced the floors in the 1880s. The fashion world raced to find their own spot in the sensation as little faint dots crept quietly into every day clothes, subtly scattered across blouses or tumbling lightly down skirts. It wasn’t until the 1920’s however, that the look began to find its true place in the fashion realm. House and garden dresses featuring playful patterns of small dots were becoming more and more popular. By the end of the decade, the polka dot dress had left the house and was starting to become a staple pattern for semi-formal afternoon dresses. French designer Coco Chanel quickly caught on to the trend about to burst into the fashion world and pushed it over the edge, incorporating dots into her stylish dresses, blouses and skirts with a distinctly delicate femininity.
The trend continued through the 30s, moving away from being the previous casual, playful look as it became more increasingly more sophisticated and en vogue. Frank Sinatra’s ballad “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” captured America’s chic allure while that same year, the Los Angeles Times assured its readers of the trend, “You can sign your fashion life away on the polka-dotted line, and you’ll never regret it.”
But it was in the 1950s that the dot pattern entered its forte, becoming a truly elegant choice. It could be matched with accessories to form an entire ensemble, from gloves and hats to purses and even shoes. In 1951, Monroe was famously photographed wearing a polka dot bikini, and soon, everyone from suburban housewives to Hollywood movie stars were going dotty for the trend.
By the ‘60s, it was well and truly a part of popular culture, and “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” became a pop-song anthem to mark the occasion. Fashion conscious Mods got into the swing of things with a splash of polka dot prints on baby doll dresses and vibrant shirts. Suddenly, dot patterns were no longer symmetrical but were bursting into lots of different shapes and sizes in bright, bold colours. Polka dots made a striking comeback in the 1980s, when fashion went on a retro rampage, revitalising polka dots prints with a completely new trend. Large spotted tops with big shoulder pads were slung over black leggings and dotty blouses plumed into puffed sleeves. And of course, we’ll always remember Julia Robert’s white-and-brown polka dot ensemble in the 1990 movie “Pretty Woman.”
Today’s dots have a much bolder, more striking vibe. With loud colours and unusual textures, they’re surprisingly fresh and new, despite the whole collection of history they bring with them.