Polka dots have slowly been making a comeback for the past several years, but this year may be the year we see them EVERYWHERE. On bags, wallets, iPhone cases, pants, jeans, and sweaters.
Our love affair with the polka dot began in 1926, when Miss America was photographed in a polka dot swimsuit. Shortly after, in 1928, Disney introduced its cartoon darling Minnie Mouse wearing a red polka dot dress and matching bow. Throughout the 1930s, polka dot dresses appeared in stores, the fabric suddenly subversive, nipped in by ribbons and accentuated with bows. In 1940, the woozy melody of Frank Sinatra’s ballad “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” captured the height of America’s polka dot mania—that spring, the Los Angeles Times assured its readers, “You can sign your fashion life away on the polka-dotted line, and you’ll never regret it.”
Later in the decade, the polka dot accrued a highbrow style currency when Christian Dior released his “New Look” collection of hourglass dresses, many styles bedecked with dots. After a wartime period of shifting gender roles, Dior told Vogue that his collection sought “to make women extravagantly, romantically, eyelash-battingly female” again. (Dior: not a fan of the polka dots on Rosie the Riveter’s headband.) Hollywood followed feminine suit, and the newly-ladylike print fast became popular with actresses: Elizabeth Taylor, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe were some of the polka dot’s chief
In 1951, Monroe was famously photographed wearing a polka dot bikini. Nine years later, the release of Brian Hyland’s hit song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” brought polka dots back into vogue. Throughout the ‘60s, the artist–and walking medley of polka dots–Yayoi Kusama became known for the busy dotted swarms that covered her paintings. “Our earth is only one polka dot among millions of others,” she once said. Kusama also believed–before she checked herself into a mental hospital in 2006–that when painted with polka dots, the body became “part of the unity of the universe.” Now released, the artist still sports the print.