Fifties' Polka Dot Dresses

Although predominately featured on television during the 1950's, one of polka dot dresses' first cinematic debuts was in 1928 when Disney Cartoons illustrators fashioned Minnie Mouse in a black and white dotted skirt for her role in “Steamboat Willie.”

Even "The It Girl" of the 1920's was often seen wearing a polka dot dress, scarf, or swimsuit.

Clara Bow sitting on a porch wearing a dress trimmed in polka dots
Clara Bow "The It Girl" of  the 1920's in Polka-Dots
They continue to hold a place in fashion history that is unrivaled by any other design or fad.

Polka Dots on Fifties' TV

Although these spotted dresses were photographed primarily in black and white, they rapidly gained fifties fashions popularity to enjoy particular favor with television costume designers. Lucy's and Ethel's wardrobes included many of these cheerfully printed fabrics in shirtwaist styles.

I Love Lucy
Leonard McCoomb 1959
Google Life
Prior to technological advances in printing methods, many early fabrics were splattered with blotches or irregularly shaped spots. A series of minute raised dots on a transparent organza or tulle fabric is referred to as Dotted-Swiss. Neither are considered true polka dots.


1951 Ad for Fashion Frocks, Inc. Polka Dots

Origins

Common theory is that the dot's name derived from the Central European "polka" music and dance craze which swept the world in the mid-1800s. The term polka became a marketing sensation with most of the polka labeled furor fading before the end of the 19th century.

Flamenco dancer in traditional polka dot costume for 1919 Travel Poster
Travel Poster 1919 Featuring Flamenco Dancer in Polka Dots

However, the fabric titled so by Godey's Lady Book continues to be called polka dots.It may only be coincidental that some polka dancers wear dotted costumes. However, the traditional flamenco dancers' costume does include polka dots and ruffles.

Polka Dots in Couture

While the proliferation of modern day polka dots is most frequently attributed to Christian Dior and his 1947 Dior New Look line, they were spotlighted in photographs, catalogs, and magazine advertisements as early as the mid 1800s.

Christian Dior 1948 polka dot dress in Envol Line on mannequin
Dior 1948 Envol
Among Dior's designs introduced in his 1948 Envol line is this petrol blue polka dot two-piece dress recently acquired by the Fashion History Museum of Cambridge, Ontario. You may read about the accession of this museum worthy garment from Past Perfect Vintage here.

Heeding the fifties consumer's polka dot love cry, designers Balmain, Lanvin, Fath, and Balenciaga began to offer polka dots in evening wear and couture suits.

Norman Norell Polka Dot Suit Dress
Norman Norell Courtesy Whitaker Auctions
via SmugMug
The very meticulous American Fashion Design Norman Norell insisted his designs have woven rather than merely printed polka dots fabric. He also politely instructed his seamstresses to change the color of thread to match the polka dots when hemming the garment.

Continued Popularity

As the polka dot fever continued to spread, the fun and happy spots surfaced not only on 1950's dresses but on sportswear, accessories, and children's clothing.

Rouge Boutique Half Moon Bay

The mania has extended into the 21st century with vintage and retro polka dot dresses, swimsuits, and footwear popular sellers in thrift, second hand, and online vintage shops everywhere.



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