Vintage polka dots: They’ve stood the test of time, the test of femininity, the test of wearability.
As the story goes, “polka” dots were an invention of the Polka Dance craze circa the mid 1800s.
But let’s step back a little further in time, shall we? Because it feels illogical to trust that “dots” on pieces of fashion apparel could be such recent inventions.
Yes, and it is illogical: the truth is that what have became known as “polka dots” (more on that to come) were called something entirely else before the Polka Dance craze named them. According to this overview, “Dotted-Swiss referred to raised dots on transparent tulle,” and in France, “quinconce described the diagonal arrangement of dots seen on the 5-side of dice.”
Meanwhile, “the large coin-sized dots on fabric, called Thalertupfen in German, got their name from Thaler, the currency of German-speaking Europe until the late 1800s.”
Flash forward to mid 19th century, when Polkamania swept the European continent. Somehow, somewhere, connecting “polka” to “dots” became synonymous with the fashion previously called “dotted swiss,” amongst other names, to some. It’s rumored that polka – which means “small girl” in Czech and therefore can be assumed to also mean small, diminutive, etc. in general – also represents the short bursts of dance energy found in the “polka dot” design itself.
Above: Vintage polka dancers doing “the Grand Polka,” as it was affectionately called.
Get it? Short bursts of energy in a dance equals short bursts of roundness in a piece of fashion design. Or something like that.
The first mention of the polka dot was circa 1857 in Godey’s Lady’s Book, describing a “scarf of muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots.”
The polka dot became popular in modern day communication thanks to figures like Marilyn Monroe wearing a polka bikini, Christian Dior designing his “New Look” of the ’50s with the simple dot, and housewives of the ’60s following with polka dotted outfits worn as the most stylish-of-stylish stay-at-home moms.
My polka dot romper is evidence that of all fashion crazes, this one shall never die. Stripes have been argued, peplums made laughable, and skinny jeans chastised for only being designed for, well, skinny people.
But the polka dot? This is a dot of democracy! A dot of truth! A dot for the people … and all the people!
In other words, mostly every woman can wear a diminutive dot and feel something special bubble up from inside. Perhaps … a smile? A chuckle? Perhaps even a flirtatious grin. She is, of course, wearing polka dots.
This vintage romper was purchased at Funky Monkey of New Orleans over a fated wedding weekend this spring. It was the one New Orleans vintage store I was able to visit on my travels – and the one find I am so grateful to have, ahem, spotted!
What do you think of this vintage polka dot romper (designed by Talbots) circa the 1980s? Please comment or pin these images to share them with your world! Plus, here’s where to learn more about how to wear vintage polka dots (pants!).
Photos by my love Oscar Furtado