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history Polka dots

‘Polka-dot’ fabrics were part of a massive polka trend in the mid-19th century, spreading from its peasant roots in Central Europe to Paris, London and later the United States. Because of the dance’s popularity at the time, businesses marketed their products by attaching the ‘polka’ prefix to them. The term ‘polka dots’ was first used in 1857 in an American women’s magazine. Polka-dot fabrics became popular again during the interwar years, appearing on children’s clothes, women’s dresses, nightwear and bedding.

history Polka dots

History Polka dots

It seems like an American women’s magazine was the first to use the term ‘polka dots’, in 1857, referring to a pattern composed of equally sized and arranged round dots. At the time, polka, a Bohemian half-step folk dance, had spread from its peasant roots in central Europe to become the biggest musical and social trend in Paris, then London, and later the United States.

Because of its massive popularity in the mid-19th century, contemporary products were often marketed by having the ‘polka’ prefix attached to them. Various foods, home decor and pieces of clothing, sometimes dotted and sometimes not, and usually not at all connected to the actual dance, became part of the polka wave. The Swedish polkagris, a striped peppermint candy stick invented in 1859, is one such example. In France, on the other hand, polka dots are referred to as peas, in Spain as little moons and in Germany as coins.

After their initial peak in the latter half of the 19th century, polka-dot fabrics again became popular, especially in the US during the interwar years, appearing on children’s clothes, women’s dresses, nightwear and bedding. The early 1940s saw a great revival of printed dots and the polka pattern was described in the American press as clean, democratic and patriotic.

When the extravagant ‘new look’ was launched in Paris after the war, polka dots were used in hour-glass evening dresses and ball gowns for their traditionally romantic and feminine connotations. The pattern has since mainly become associated with an optimistic and cheerful fashion of the postwar era.