Wednesday 28th October 2020
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The sartorial minefield that is the polka dot

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Because there are so many ways polka dots can go wrong—they can come off too costumey, too young, too goofy—I’ve got some pretty tough criteria for choosing them. To wit: I like them in the most limited palette of colors, all of which are dark and none of which are earth tones. I like when the actual dot is not a perfect sphere. And I like them on clean, sophisticated shapes. The dots on this shirtdress from Marimekko are much, much bigger than I usually find acceptable, but it works, in a poppy summery, fun way.


A small dot print on a straightforward button-down feels pretty classic to me.

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The subtle dark-on-dark palette is what makes this sneaker chic and not crazy.

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The easiest way to incorporate this (or really any) print into an outfit is with a scarf, and the pattern on this one is so pretty and painterly.

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This tee is Proenza Schouler, so of course it costs a fortune, but boy, would it look cute peeking out from under a blazer.

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Dots can be pretty genius for print-mixing, and this sweater quite conveniently does all the work for you.

Posted on April 27th, 2016 13 Comments

13 Responses

  1. Jill says:

    Totally agree with you on all the criteria. I only own one polka dot item though, a top in black with small white dots. I’m much more of a stripes or animal-print girl. But I’m curvy with a big chest and I feel more costume-y in polka dots.

  2. MarieP says:

    I love this print on others; I do not love it on my 5’2″ frame. It takes gamine too far toward little girl. And I’m 43; I can’t be looking like a little girl. I have one may button-down with small green dots that I do wear. Maybe the mannish cut helps?

  3. Trish says:

    I have a polka dot half placket lawn shirt I got from J. Crew a few years ago and I just love it. That is the one and only item I have in dots, come to think of it. Maybe you are right – that I polka dots can feel quite young. And I am not “quite young” anymore, I’m a grown ass woman.

    Am I the only one who thinks about that dress Julia Roberts wore to the polo match in Pretty Woman every time I wear polka dots?

    • Mamavalveeta03 says:

      No, I’m still having nightmares about the scary clown in polka dots from last week.

  4. Susanna says:

    I’m evaluating how many polka dots there are in my closet and realizing that perhaps I ought to be a bit more measured in my choices.

    That said, I *adore* that dress.

  5. Mae says:

    In the 1990s, I worked for an investment banking firm and had a gorgeous Ann Taylor silk “coat dress” — black with white dots. I quickly discovered that even if I only wore it once a month it felt like I was wearing it too often. I’m weird.

  6. Tammy says:

    I always think of Julia’s polka dot dress, when I think of dots. Have a brown/cream dot Madewell shirt that reminds me of the dress.

    I, for one, love dots. Have a Marameko top that has gradual, small black and white dot pattern.

  7. Laurie says:

    I have that Marimekko print in a bag and a throw pillow. Almost bought a duvet cover but haven’t yet. I love it. But the dress: for me, perhaps too much.

  8. Suz says:

    That cardigan makes me very happy, but the price makes me sad. Oh well. Its got a great frankenstieny quality.

    God I wish to be lanky enough for Marimekko! 🙂 Their prints are like a walking happy face

  9. Hick from Styx says:

    I don’t have any polka dots in my closet. Not sure how it evolved that way. I used to have a client full of stripes, but those are gone, too. Simplicity?

  10. Hannah says:

    My partner LOVES polka dots; I’m more of a stripe person. I make him polka dotted t-shirts now and again and am hoping those Nikes come in his size.

  11. Mamavalveeta03 says:

    I’m into stripes, but I actually have a Pinterest board called “Polka dots make me happy.” I own a navy blouse with white dots and it reminds me of my beloved late grandma who LOVED polka dots. <3

  12. Elle says:

    No to polka dots. Just no.