Dots in patterns have been around for centuries. In medieval times, dotted patterns were considered reminiscent of disease and were rarely used for clothing. It was also nearly impossible to create evenly spaced patterns of dots on fabrics without using a machine, and couldn’t be produced without creating an uneven blotchy appearance. This probably had quite a bit to do with the distaste of dots during that period.
Over time people’s attitudes changed and by the middle 1850s, dotted fabric was considered to be quite fashionable and names such as “Dotted-Swiss”, Quinconce, and Thalertupfen were given to dotted designs (depending on the language). The advent of the industrial age also allowed the creation of evenly spaced attractive dotted fabrics.
Where did the term “Polka Dot” come from? How did a European dance and colorful circles become linked? During the middle 1850s, the same period that dotted fabrics had become widespread, a Bohemian dance called the Polka became very popular. The dance quickly spread through Europe and then crossed the Pacific to the United States. One of the earliest uses of the term as a design was in 1873 in Godey’s magazine and the leading theory is that both polka dancing and dotted clothing (especially dresses) were popular at the time and presumably people wore clothes with dots to polka dances. The two became connected, and the term “Polka Dot” was born. Over time, the polka craze faded, but the dots remained.
They remained highly popular during the early and middle 20th century and in 1928 reached new heights with the introduction of Disney’s Minnie Mouse, who wore clothes covered with dots. In fact, Minnie Mouse was so popular that many people thought that Walt Disney invented the polka dot – or at least the term. Dotted items had become so popular that in 1936 a designer actually tried to copyright polka dots (she failed, and designers around the world continued to use the colored circles).
Polka dots have even been the subject of hit songs. The most famous being the 1961 hit by Brian Hyland, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”. But other classic artists have also released hits featuring polka dots, including Frank Sinatra’s 1940 hit, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
As a style, they have waxed and waned over the years, but nowadays nearly anything can be found covered with bright and festive polka dots these days, from clothing to sheets to cell phone cases to mugs. Admittedly, decorating completely in polka dots can be a bit much, but a few touches here and there can add a bit of fun and color to a stylish outfit or a room.