The Togs Blog

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Polka Dots of the Mind

Polka dots in all the shops and polka dots on the front cover of Bitch Lit, due from Crocus Books in September, a collection of stories about bitches, intended as an antidote to chick-lit.

There are of course many things of greater importance in this world to ponder, but I find myself pondering this: how did polka dots, hitherto a kind of symbol of innocence, become a symbol of bitchiness? Thing is, when I think of polka dots I think of children's telly. I think of my brother sliding on his bottom on the shiny kitchen floor in his spotted brown playsuit, I think of my mother with her hair done up washer-woman style in a spotty scarf, I think of buckets and spades and the dotted bathing suits my sister and I had the year we were eight and ten, and the sand in our sandwiches, and between our toes, and all that whining for an ice-cream, and the feeling sick when you got one because you'd had too many sweets before. Not exactly sophisticated associations.

Though I suppose there was always that element of in-your-face cheek: that fifties itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny bikini, named after the site of an early nuclear test and expected, or so Wikipedia tells us, to cause a mega-explosion of scandalised attention. And anyway there are not many symbols that can't be given a different spin, and this anthology is precisely all about subversion, in particular subverting the chick-lit view of women. I'm in the Bitch-Lit anthology, and we were sent to Primark to fight the crowds for polka-dot tops to wear for a photo-shoot, and the garments we found were of a whole different kind from the ones in my memories: black with white spots, plunge-necked camisoles and silky corsets with lace. Polka dots subverted for bitches and vamps.


  • I think this has happened naturally - and it's interesting, now you mention it - through several different processes.

    One, polka-dots are associated with the forties and fifties and so, because we have reappropriated those fashion eras we have taken the polka dots that seemed to come in the bag.

    Two, you're right, they are cheeky in their innocence.

    Three, I think they were always, historically, about being 'jaunty'. Maybe that's the same as cheekily innocent.

    Four, it's a very controlled pattern, and our current moment seems largely to be about control of one kind or another. And fashion has avery controlled element to it right now, with the pencil skirts and vertiginous heels...

    These are off the top of my head, I'm sure there are more elements to this trend. Interesting!

    And by the way, I think fashion is endlessly pertinent. 500 years ago it was an din another 500 years it will will be. Great blog theme!

    By Blogger Katy Evans-Bush, at 5:36 AM  

  • And when I think of it, Katy, those fifties adverts with women smoking and wearing polka-dot halter-necks, they were more than just cheeky, so the more sophisticated associations have always been there.

    And your point about control is a really good one. Increasing surveillance, identity cards etc - we feel increasingly controlled or out of control. Was it coincidence that during World War 2 and immediately afterwards, those calming, neat rows of dots were also in fashion?

    By Blogger Elizabeth Baines, at 7:24 AM  

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