The polka dot may be a strong feature of dresses, suits, underwear all the way to bedsheets and numerous other products. But as patterns go, this print hasn’t been around for that long. The eye-popping pattern gets its name from the polka music craze that engulfed Europe in the mid-1800s.
THEY’RE NOT CALLED POLKA DOTS EVERYWHERE.
In Germany, they’re Thalertupfen, after the silver coin called a Thaler, used as currency throughout Europe until the 1800s. In Spanish, the term is lunares, or little moons (also the word for moles). In French, clothes are à pois, or marked with peas. The English term comes from the mass popularity of polka music in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century.
IT’S UNCLEAR WHAT DOTS HAVE TO DO WITH POLKA.
The connection between the dance and the patterns on all that spotted merch is murky at best. Possibly the spotted pattern evoked the lively half-step of the dance. It’s also unclear whether marketers intended all those polka hats, vests, and shoes as dancewear, or if calling something ‘polka’ just made a product seem more cheerful.
POLKA-DOT FASHION WASN’T POSSIBLE IN THE PRE-INDUSTRIAL ERA.
Dotted patterns didn’t become popular until there were machines that could make them perfectly spaced. In Medieval Europe, irregular spots on fabrics would have reminded people of skin blemishes and of the blood-spotted handkerchiefs.
THERE’S A BATMAN VILLAIN WHO LOVED POLKA DOTS.
Mister Polka-Dot, a character who first appeared in a February 1962 comic, wore a skin-tight costume covered in colourful polka dots that would swell up to create deadly weapons at the push of a button. He used a getaway car called the Flying Polka Dot.
ARTISTS HAVE MADE CAREERS OUT OF POLKA DOTS.
Chuck Close an artist who creates photorealistic portraits out of pixelated dots discovered about 150 dots being the minimum number of dots to make a specific recognizable design.
THERE’S A NAME FOR THE FIVE-DOT PATTERN ON A DIE.
It’s called a quincunx, or in French, quinconce. The term comes from a pattern on Roman coins.
POLKA DOTS MADE FRANK SINATRA FAMOUS.
His first hit, recorded with jazz musician Tommy Dorsey in 1940, was a song called “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.”
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