Bought this chest about 25 years ago, and for the last ten years it has been in my closet, just sitting there empty. Yesterday I decided a new interior would give it a lift. Hoping to use this for display in my new little Vintage Space.
Does anyone know the history of the Polka Dot? I found this history online and would like to share:
America’s love affair with the polka dot began, perhaps, 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 exponents.
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.
Once upon a time, spotted prints went by a host of other names. Slate’s Jude Stewart provides an overview: in the 19th century, “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, “[t]he 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.”
But then came the polka, the dance so popular that mid-19th century Europe came up with the word “polkamania” to describe its own excitement. As the polka craze swept west across the continent, enthusiasts claimed the polka jacket, then the polka hat (neither of them spotted), and finally, the polka dot. There is only a tenuous connection between dot and dance, yet surely the two are linked—it’s possible that polka dots reflect the same regulated, short bursts of energy that inflect the polka itself. Regardless, we know that the American women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book was the first to print the term, in an 1857 description of a “scarf of muslin, for light summer wear, surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots.”
The word “polka” itself derives from the Polish for “Polish woman”—in Czech, it translates to “little woman or girl.” Polka dots are inherently diminutive, automatically feminine. Today, when we wear them, we inherit their complicated legacy from the women that have worn them before us—women who have negotiated the shifting realm of trying to rock a dot and be taken seriously at the same time. As Elle Woods’ college counselor famously said, “Harvard won’t be impressed that you aced History of Polka Dots.”