polka dots

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue May 29 19:54:54 UTC 2001

>>I am wondering if your research will cover this term. I know that in
>>fashion literature the term polka dots isn't in use until the 1870s, the
>>terms dotted and spotted used prior. I would like to explain where the
>>term comes from in an exhibit opening soon, and OED wasn't very helpful.
>>Any ideas?

Here's a serious one.

There is a tight-fitting jacket, worn by women, called a polka jacket. This
is supposedly named after the dance, and I find this derivation entirely
plausible. Apparently the polka jacket was the "in thing" around 1845 when
the polka was a new fashion. See for example (MoA Cornell): "Miss
Brightington's Polka Jacket", in "The Living Age" 4 (42):520-522 (March 1,

At http://www.harriets.com/outerwear.htm one can see a picture of a polka
jacket, "ca. 1861". It is bordered with a pattern which could be called
either "ermine" or "polka-dot".

Also on the Web, http://members.tripod.com/~CWCiv/Godey/Godey56.htm
mentions "Polka Jacket trimmed with Imitation Ermine (Illustrated) 202,
259": this is in the index to "Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine", Vol. 52
(January-June 1856). Presumably this refers to an item similar to the above
(maybe even the same one?).

Perhaps polka jackets were often trimmed with a pattern of dots
"simulating" ermine? I suppose that this would be reminiscent of the ermine
trim used by Slavic and other European nobility; perhaps it was considered
a good pattern for a polka outfit for this reason.

-- Doug Wilson

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