Polka dots. They are happy. They make outfits just a touch more fun. They are just plain adorable. But where did they come from? Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” aced “History of Polka Dots” but what do you really know about them?
To get into the meat of the subject, let’s start with the name: polka dots. I used to call them “poker dots” as a child because, let’s face it, I somehow ended up with an exposure to poker and had no exposure to the polka, but it is, in fact the polka that lent it’s name to these happy dots. Starting in the 1830s, the polka swept Europe and the United States. The word “polka” is a Bohemian word for “a Polish woman” and somehow ended up morphing into “polak” and the slur that it is today.
I’m getting off topic.
Anywho, as the 1800s progressed, polka clubs became the cool place to be and eventually, someone came up with the bright idea that each club needed a uniform. The first of the uniforms created consisted of a short, closely fitted jacket covered with a series of evenly spaced dots. At first, the pattern was just referred to as being dotted, but as the association with polka clubs progressed, the polka dot was born circa the 1880s! Marketers took note of the craze and sold polka everything: vests, hats, curtains, and even polka pudding (made of cream and sherry).
Moving into the 20th century, polka dots became something of a fashion statement. Coco Chanel and Minnie Mouse alike favored polka dots in the 1920s, pin up girls flocked to dots during WWII, and Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Christian Dior were notable dot enthusiasts of the 1950s. In the 1960s, the itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini became the must have beach accessory for big haired, baby oiled it gals. Geoffrey Beene was kind enough to keep polka dots in the mainstream during the 1980s and since then, they have become a fun, vintage-inspired print!
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