We always refer to polka dots as one of the most iconic patterns worn by Disney’s biggest fashionista—Minnie Mouse. But where did the polka dot originally come from? Did Walt Disney have anything to do with making them a trend? Why is Marc Jacobs so right in saying he doesn’t “think there is ever a wrong time for the polka dot?” We’ve got the answers.
While there are many different theories on the origin of the polka dot, most fashion historians agreed that the print came from mid-19th century England. Then, the print was hardly noticeable, let alone to be considered a part of fashion. In fact, polka dots were predominately found in menswear in the form of bowties and scarves and were too small to make any sort of impact. It wasn’t until around the turn of the century, when textile technology advanced, that the print was adapted into women’s fashion. Still, nothing made the print a noteworthy trend until the 1920’s when a certain mouse was brought to life.
Minnie Mouse was first drawn in black and white—in the flapper style of the time—with a pillbox hat, tapered heels, and a pointed toe. But what was most noteworthy was the polka dot mini skirt we are inspired by today. At the time however, the dots were too difficult to control in animated film, so they were only incorporated into her outfit in still images.
By the late 1930’s, polka dots had finally reached their fashion potential. They were a pattern that Minnie quickly helped make into a pop-culture trend. Frank Sinatra sung about them in the ’40s, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, and Audrey Hepburn sported spots in the ’50s. In fact, artists of the mod ’60s took the trend to another level, playing with larger dots that created an almost entirely different pattern.
We can attribute much of the success of the polka dot pattern to Minnie Mouse, which is why she is appreciated around the world as a fashion icon. The print hasn’t gone out of style yet and we don’t see that it ever will. Marc Jacobs is right—the polka dot is timeless.