Where have all the polka dots gone? Looking over my collection of vintage pictures and catalogs, polka dot dresses, tops, and swimsuits were all very popular from the 1920s to the 1960s. Large and small white dots on a colored background were plentiful in the mid-century. Black and white polka dots, red and black polka dots, and blue and white polka dot dresses were also very common. Around the world, polka dot prints are also called ditsy, spotty or dotty prints. Vintage polka dot dresses were fun, youthful, trendy and sometimes high fashion. Polka dots can’t help but make women smile, which is why I think they were trendy during difficult times.
Today’s photo roundup is a salute to vintage polka dot dresses and clothing!
The first picture I have is from around 1910. The lady in the middle is wearing a small polka dot walking dress with white piping for trim. This is very unusual for this time period, but it goes to show you that the polka dot dress fad was coming soon.
1920s Polka Dots
In the early 1920s, polka dots captured the youth driven look fashion was founded on. They were especially popular as house dresses and even garden dresses if the dots were small and set against a white background (1922 picture above). By the mid to late 1920s, the polka dot dress left the house and became a staple pattern for semi formal afternoon dresses. Polka dot print fabric never crossed into evening wear, but beaded dot patterns were certainly a common design element on Art Deco/ geometric inspired designs.
Most polka dots prints remained with sportier looks such as on blouses, skirts, and pajamas.
I love these cute 1920s drop waist dresses with mixed polka dots! The beach outfit appears to be in two colors over white. I wonder what colors they were?
1930s Polka Dot Dresses
Polka dot dresses in the 1930s were even more popular than in the 1920s. They also moved away from being just the main dress print to a pretty trim. Still casual and playful, they became more sophisticated as all 1930s fashion did – especially when worn by Hollywood’s bright young stars!
Polka dots were not just for dresses. They made a great print for beach pajamas too. Mary Pickford’s outfit above looks more like a beach pajama overall or jumper.
1940s Polka Dot Dresses
The 1940s era loved polka dot dresses for all occasions. Small dots and large dots were equally common, as well as prints that looked liked dots from a distance but were perhaps oval or another non strict circular shape. Polka dot materials were made into suits and maternity dresses as well (rightmost dress above).
Just like in the previous decades, polka dots dresses were a mostly casual day or afternoon dresses. That all was beginning to change after the war. Going into the 1950s, polka dots were seen as elegant when matched with accessories: gloves, hats, purses, and even shoes.
Polka dot swimsuits were not new to the 1940s but they certainly were cute! I just love this one that Jeanne Crain is modeling.
Lucky for us, 1940s retro polka dot dresses are extremely popular with designers and shoppers alike. The “Madden” dress at Unique Vintage continues to be a best seller year after year. I love the 1940s silhouette of this dress.
1950s Polka Dot Dresses
Everything in the 1950s got big! Big dresses, big skirts, big accessories, and big personalities. Polka dot patterns grew big too. Extra large polka dot prints came on dresses and matching accessories and were at once the biggest fashion statement of the decade. Everything had polka dots. Women of all ages wore them, too. They were no longer just for the young woman’s wardrobe.
An explosion of polka dots naturally continued on to sportswear. Tops and bottom both featured prints (although they weren’t worn at the same time). Crop pants were often rolled so the hem showed a polka dot lining. Tops could be all dots or only the cuffs and collars. Colored socks, hair scarves, and jewelry came in polka dots too. It was a time when polka dots accessorized everything.
1960s Polka Dot Dresses
The 1960s had two looks that each adopted polka dots. The first was the return to the school girl style. Polka dot prints appeared on baby doll dresses trimmed with white collars and ruffled lines. It was a similar response that the 1920s had on their young girls look.
The second look was the mod style. Polka dots were no longer symmetrical. Instead, all shapes and sizes appeared in bold, shocking colors. Polka dots as an accent was very mod too (last dress above).
Retro Polka Dot Dresses Today
Join the love affair with polka dots and you will step back in time. Shop new retro style polka dot dresses here: