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Why Do We Call Polka Dots Polka Dots?
Polka Dots have been around for a very long time. It was the Gypsies in Spain who started the whole polka dot craze, but they didn’t call them polka dots. The equally spaced and uniform sized white dots on fabric actually represented the moon which was quite special and important to gypsies.
Polka dot fabric was, and for the most part still is, the preferred fabric of Flamenco dancers.
Flamenco vs. Polka
Flamenco is an art form which developed over centuries with Gypsy, Moorish, and Andalusian roots. Flamenco music dance became popular in the early 19thy century in cafes.
It was another dance, the Polka, which popularized the polka dot.
In the mid-19th Century America had gone absolutely dotty for the Polka. The Polka is a simple lively dance often associated with Poland, Czechoslovakia and other Slavic nations and is considred to be of Bohemian origin. The etymology of the word “polka” is a little unclear. In Polish the word “polka “ is basically “Polish woman.” Polka maybe a corruption of the Czech word “pulka” meaning half which makes sense when referring to the half steps involved in dancing the Polka.
Godey’s magazine in 1871 had one of the earliest recorded uses of the term polka dot.
Dots, disease, sex, magic and mysticism
In medieval times people didn’t wear polka dots. It’s difficult to get polka dots evenly spaced without a machine. Random spots were associated with diseases like the plague, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis and the measles. Polka dots also create figure-ground confusion. Medieval people read the colors in clothing in layers. They could not distinguish which was the first and which was the second layer. For this same reason, stripes were also taboo.
Bushman in South Africa use dots to represent male sexual virility. According to the article “Seeing Spots: From lepers to paranoia, the twisted history of the polka” in Slate Magazine, the more densely packed microdots show the concentrated, magical potency inside a shaman's body.
Banda tribe of the Central African Republic and the Lega people of Democratic Republic of Congo paint adolescent boys with white dots for male-initiation rites. Young men of the Lega are adorned in dots and sent to knock incessantly at a specially constructed polka-dotted door (keibi ) as a test of his piety and persistence. His persistence is eventually rewarded and he is allowed in and presents gifts to his father. Everyone goes dotty and paints themselves in dots to pay homage to the keibi , whose dots represent the leopard. The leopard may frighten goats and other animals, but the young hunter is not afraid. The initiation ends in a whirling, energetic dancing blur of dots.
From the 1590s to the 1720s wealthier ladies used dots of black cloth to cover blemishes or scars on their faces in a practice known as patching. Around the mid 18th century following the French revolution richly brocaded fabrics were ditched in favor of crisp, clean motifs on plain cotton fabrics. Popular polka dot designs from the time look minimalist and modern.
A dot by any other name
It was because of the polka fever, which at its peak lasted from 1840-1890, that manufactures decided to cash in on this craze. They coined the phrase Polka Dot and suddenly polka dots and polka were everywhere! Polka hats, polka jackets, polka gauze, polka curtain ties, and of course polka dot fabric. Of course, polka dots have nothing to do with the polka but folks went absolutely dotty for anything polka dot. By the late 19th century polka dots were showing up on clothing for both men and women. Polka dot lore says the British used polka dots to hide Morse code during World War I.
The polka may no longer be popular, but the polka dot has staying power.
Polka Dots in Clothing
Polka dots are often found on retro and vintage clothing styles, especially 1950s style. It’s almost de rigueur for retro loving fashionistas to have at least one polka dot item in her wardrobe. Polka dots seem to rise and fall in popularity but never completely go out of style. Polka dots were even popular with men. Now men’s polka dots seem to be limited mostly to neckties.
In 2006 polka dot clothing was very popular fad in the United Kingdom. The fashionable sported polka dot skirts, dresses, scarves and tops. Polk Dot pencil skirts were very popular.
Wearing Polka Dots
Polka Dots are fashionable again. Work them in to your wardrobe.
A plethora of polka dots
The popularity of polka dots for adult clothing has waxed and waned like the moon, but they remain prolific in children’s clothing, toys and décor. Polka dots are considered playful and are most prevalent on casual wear, sleepwear, swimwear and lingerie. Polka dots are rarely seen on formal clothing; with the exception of regularly spaced white polka dots on a black field. The polka dot pattern is traditionally a series of singular color dots equally spaced on the fabric. There is, however, a plethora of polka dot arrangements and color combinations from which to choose. There are densely packed polka dots with little background showing, various sizes of polka dots on a single fabric, multi-colored polka dots , polka dots that are randomly placed, sized or both, huge polka dots to teeny tiny polka dots. On Mod-style clothing you usually see huge polka dots with very little background showing. A current trend in women’s clothing is large, densely packed polka dot on the bottom of the garment, usually a dress or skirt that become smaller and looser toward the top of the garment. This gives the polka dot a more contemporary and grown up feel. The most common color ways for polka dots are white on black, white on red, and pink on white. In recent years color combinations of pink and brown and brown and turquoise have become increasingly popular.
Polka dots on the rise
I love polka dots. In fact, polka dot is my favorite color. I have polka dot dresses, shirts, scarves, shoes, boxes, barrettes, rugs and coffee mugs. I have polka dot radar. I have even had my nails painted in polka dots. I can spot a polka dot from a mile away. Recently while helping my dear friend, Bea, who I suspect may stage a polka dot intervention soon, come up with ideas for her American Girl Tea Party we decided to go with a polka dot theme for the décor. She was concerned that she didn’t have enough tablecloths in white and would have to use black. Since the tables were round, I suggested use both because the tables would look like BIG black and white polka dots and we could decorate with pink polka dots on black for the tables in black and white polka dots on pink for the tables in white. This naturally meant a trip to the store for all things polka dot! We found polka dot plates, polka dot ribbon, polka dot wrapping paper, polka dot napkins and of course polka dot fabric. What could be more perfect for a children’s tea than a polka dot theme?
Put a little punch of polka dots in your lfe
Polka dots have the power to make you happy. If you don’t want to wear polka dots (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t) you can just add a little polka dot to your style. A polka dot scarf is always a fun accessory. Perhaps, a little polka dot at home? Try polka dot throw pillows in the living room to add some fun and whimsy. How about polka dot plates in the kitchen? Polka Dot shower curtain in the bathroom, maybe? Polka dots are perfect for rainy days. You can easily find polka dot rain coats, boots and umbrellas. You will feel so cute and happy that you won’t mind the rain at all. Don’t leave your pets out! You can find polka dot beds, bowls, collars and leashes.
It is best to stick to the same palette such as black and white toile, white polka dots on black and black and white stripes. I am partial to the black and white polka dot combination, but I also like pink and black, brown and white, grey and white, and navy and white. It is customary when referring to polka dots to say the background color name first followed by the polka dot, therefore, red and white polka dot fabric would be white polka dots on a red background like Minnie Mouse’s skirt. This is also my preferred combination – white dots on a color background. I have also seen white polka dots on white and pink polka dots on pink. These are usually one shade apart and are a more subtle approach to polka dots but are still as charming as traditional polka dots.
You could even opt for living polka dots – the polka dot plant. This little houseplant has dark green leaves with cute little pink polka dots on them.
Polka Dots in Pop Culture
Almost everyone has heard “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polk Dot Bikini” released in 1960s which popularized that new item in women’s swimwear and also reinvigorated the popularity of the polka dot. In 1940 Frank Sinatra had his first hit with “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” written by Jimmy Van Huesen and Johnny Burke. I wonder if any of them knew that polka dots were originally representations of the moon. Randy Rhodes played a Flying V guitar with polka dots. Even a professional wrestler, Dusty Rhodes, whore a black and yellow polka dot suit. Artist Yayoi Kusama uses polka dots in much of her work. In fact, Kusama’s early work featured blaring, large polka dots, making them appear unfriendly. She was also very anti-capitalism. She eventually literally went dotty, and ended up in a mental hospital. She recovered, embraced capitalism and began to make all kinds of dot covered products like t-shirts, cell phones, and a myriad of knick-knacks. Buddy Guy, legendary blues guitarist, plays a black and cream polka dot Fender Stratocaster. Fashion designer Carolina Herrera is known for her polka dot dresses during the 1980s and early 90s. In the Tour de France, the leader in the mountain competitions wears a polka dot jersey. Julia Roberts was memorable in Pretty Woman in her brown and cream polka dot dress. Diane Keaton has something polka dot, including a wedding cake, in nearly every scene in “Because I said so.”
Come to think of it, a polka dot wedding would be fun and easy to create.
Don’t be afraid of polka dots. They’re fun and versatile. And if you are afraid of polka dots, that is called trypophobia which technically is a fear of holes.