Polka dots: Back in the ‘spot’light

Though ancient, the world definitely went “dotty” back in the ’50s and ’60s for polka dots. Now they are back really big (or small). Have you ever wondered where the name for these dramatic dots came from? It is believed that it came from the Polish polka dance. There were polka hats, jackets and even gauze at the time of the dance craze.

Dots were a big hit and a common pattern on clothing in mid to late 19th century, at the same time polka music and the dance were invented. Dots and the dance became all the rage and, consequently, we have the name, Polka, coming from the Polish word “pulka,” meaning half-step, as in the dance. Perhaps the delightful dance that takes one around in circles was its inspiration, but no matter, the dots have made an indelible mark on all kinds of fashion and ware.

Defined as a pattern consisting of dots of any arrangement or design, they appeared on clothes, dinnerware, accessories, curtains, toys, pop art, and just about anything in the 1950s and ’60s.

I believe though that the most famous polka dots came in the form of a song by Brian Hyland in 1960: the famous Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. That girl may have been afraid to step out in public, but the pattern has not!

The 1950s and ’60s people, and designers, took these wonderful dots to heart. Who can forget the I Love Lucy type polka dot dresses?

One of the most popular and expensive forms of polka dots came on Bakelite jewelry. Some of the most coveted and popular polka dot items are Bakelite bangles. These can vary in price up to $400+. “There are 4-dot, 6-dot and 8-dot bracelets. Once in a while you get a 5-dot one. Compared to the number of other bangles, there are not as many dots as plain ones. I guess this is one of the reasons that people like them. Good domed ones are the ones you want to collect. They seem to be worth more than the bangles that are flat,” says Susannah of her eBay bangles. This makes them a design favorite of many probably because fewer were made and the pattern is so loved.

Kitchenware in dots was also very popular, and several companies heeded to the people’s demands. Pyrex was one of the companies that made bowl sets in dots. People have loved the Fire King dotted bowls for years. You can still find them at shows or on auction sites like eBay. They are a bit taller than your normal bowls, and also, are nested (different sizes from large to small). The cost might be into the $80+ range for the set, but they are definitely worth it. American Bisque cookie jars immortalized the dots beautifully and with fun. They made a series of jars called the polka dot pig, polka dot cat, bear and other whimsical characters.

A famous, and sometimes rare, English ware is the TG Green Domino items. The Domino ware consists of dots and comes in many different pieces, including a toast rack,  round butter dish and a rectangular butter/cheese dish.

Particularly whimsical were the cat’s eye sunglasses/glasses in all colors of dots, and accessories such as compacts, purses, earrings and more.
Today we can also see them on dinnerware. Both Noritake and Isaac Mizrahi have designed dinnerware with dots; in fact, Mizrahi’s is called Polka Dot. One can even see dog’s dresses in all colors of dots, if you so desire to dress your pooch. Of course, people’s clothing and accessories are also popular in this beloved pattern; so many things seem to be going retro now. If you are a pack rat like many people who collect, then get out all of your polka dot items, because you will be all the rage in the 21st century.

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