Ready to Wear: Are polka dots acceptable for a woman over the age of seven?

By Susannah Frankel
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:14

The world's gone dotty. And not just because the unusually clement weather has scrambled Europe's collective brain.

At London's Hayward Gallery, among the highlights of summer's blockbuster show, Walking In My Mind, is the red and white polka dotted work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. "Visitors are able to immerse themselves in 'Dots Obsession' (2009), a large mirrored corridor filled with red spotty balloons, and walk through a dot covered landscape on one of the outside sculpture terraces," the blurb for the exhibition reads. And it doesn't stop there: "Twenty five trees along Queen's Walk are also covered in red and white polka dots for the duration of the exhibition". Marvellous.

Anyone with a Fifties-style attachment to coordinated dressing – at best, think Hitchcock's Grace Kelly with matching crocodile shoes and Kelly bag; at worst, imagine the peculiarly French penchant for matching mother and daughter outfits – will be pleased to know that polka dots are among the graphic prints of the spring/summer season. The opportunity to not only immerse themselves but get entirely lost in fine art has never been greater.

Are polka dots – and specifically the wearing of them – acceptable for a woman over the age of seven though?

Certainly, they are commonly seen printed and/or embroidered across children's clothing, toys and furniture. There is, potentially, a cartoonish quality to this particular style. Just look at Betty Boop or, for that matter, Minnie Mouse. In Japan in particular young boys and girls wear polka dots in much the same way as they might sailor suits or pinafores. Spots are the uniform of the nursery.

The ruffled garb of the flamenco dancer is also spotted, however, and there's nothing much innocent about Spain's most famous – and indeed powerfully erotic – dance.

Dior's chiffon polka dot dresses boast the best of both these worlds. As brief and coquettish as the aforementioned Ms Boop's choice of garb, they are sheer and worn over the type of entirely womanly foundation garment that Jane Russell pioneered. Dolce & Gabbana's spotted pyjamas are rooted in traditional menswear and more discreetly flirtatious for it. At House Of Holland what can only be described as an overload of polka dots was stamped onto everything from cotton tank tops to Levi's 501 jeans. This, it almost goes without saying, is very Eighties in its approach.

The best way to wear polka dots, though, might be to adapt their proud-to-be-feminine appeal to a clean, wholly adult silhouette. Michael Kors' monochrome shift dresses are as chic as they are sophisticated as are Giles Deacon's. Quite the finest polka-dotted pieces of them all, they play with black, white and shades of grey to thoroughly modern effect.

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