The History of Polka Dots

Polka dot pattern is typically composed of a solid colored ground speckled with large, usually evenly sized and spaced spots of a different color- sometimes multiple. This iconic and simplistic pattern has a long history of use in fashion and interior design and is a playful and fun way to add interest to any modern home or outfit.

The origins of polka dots date back to medieval times in Europe, when they held a much more ominous connotation. Back then, polka dots and any similar patterns were associated with disease and poor health, likely due to the visual similarities shared with the sores caused by the plague and smallpox. Both of these diseases were extremely lethal and rampant in the medieval era, so anything resembling them in a time when science was less advanced and people were highly superstitious, was seen as a bad omen.

The namesake of polka dots didn’t come around until around the 1840s and is thought to come from the polka dance that was also popularized at the time. Simply because they became popular at the same time, these two burgeoning trends became forever intertwined by sharing a name. Many fashion items were referred to as “polka” at the time, such as clothing and accessories, but the name of the pattern is the only one whose name endured the decades. Polka dots were also rarely seen prior to this time due to the difficulty in creating the busy print by hand. In the mid 1800s, thanks to the capabilities of new machinery brought about during the industrial revolution, manufacturers became capable of creating detailed and multicolored dye patterns, thus the polka dot was allowed to flourish.

 Since they were first popularized and earned their catchy name almost 200 years ago, polka dot fabric has been a popular choice for women’s clothing and interior design elements. Like any other pattern, it has experienced a number of spikes and dips in trendiness over the years, but has never truly gone out of style. In the 1950s, polka dots were a regular sight in casual women’s dress and have cemented themselves in history as the pattern of the decade. Thanks to pop culture perpetuating the popularity of polka dots in the ‘50s as well through film and movies, the pattern has become a symbol of that time period.

The most recent revival of the polka dot trend was for a couple of years circa 2010, when it took the fashion and interior design worlds by storm yet again. The early 2010s were all about loud and colorful statements that took some inspiration from the 1980s. Bright and oversized prints like polka dot and chevron were found on everything from pillows to purses.

Since then, these bold patterns have faded to the background a bit, but, thanks to their simplicity and timelessness, are still never completely “out”. As trends tend to do, they have simply transformed with the times to suit what is popular now. Instead of the flashy neon and white polka dot fabrics like we saw in the 2010s, polka dots in the 2020s find a way to blend in rather than stand out; they make subtle statements rather than bold ones. Our Waters Throw Pillow Cover makes a great example of this by maintaining that bright and fun contrast with its crimson and white coloring, but the ikat detailing to the dots gives it a little more personality and texture than a crisp, plain polka dot. Our Gleason Pillow Cover breaks the traditional polka dot even more by giving a bit of irregularity and splatter effect to the dots- a fun way to make polka dots a bit less stiff and add some edge. Lastly, the Athol Pillow Cover takes the quintessential black and white polka dot pillow and modernizes it with oversized dots and lots of spacing in between.