The Retro Print Coming Back Into Fashion Favor

If you're always nostalgic for the cultural and fashion trends of days of old — like black and white movies, vinyl records, and the Vidal Sassoon haircut — you'll be pleased to know that retro is making a comeback in the fashion world. Actually, it's no secret that the trends of eras beyond the early aughts have been and always will be recycled, no matter how many latest runway collections are rolled out each year. The staples that defined the rites of passage into grown-upness by generation X and Y, like cat eyeglasses, tie-dye shirts, and checkerboard shift dresses, are still a huge presence in today's fashion scene. For instance, per a 2022 analysis on Trendalytics, searches for Y2K staple denim cargos are up 65% from last year, while queries for regency-era-inspired Toile dresses have increased 89%.

"While we reimagined the '60s and '70s in the '90s and '00s, today we're seeing Gen Z reconceptualize those looks," says fashion stylist Heather Newberger (via TODAY). That's why contemporary and nostalgia, the two polar ends of a fashion cycle, never fail to make excellent bedfellows in the mainstream. From the red carpets to high street stores, you'll always bump into designs that feature influences from timeless classics. This season, however, a gaudy retro print seems to have been popularized and will soon be a key theme for the rest of the year.

Polka dots are about to be everywhere

And the retro print that's making a big comeback in celebrities' wardrobes is polka dot, a summery pattern that strikes the perfect balance between vintage and whimsy. And the one catapulting polka dots to the height of the pattern game this year is no other than Margot Robbie. Earlier this month, the "Barbie" star appeared on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon wearing a blue, polka-dot maxi dress from the Alessandra Rich fall 2022 collection (and this wasn't the first time she was spotted in this pattern). The outfit is added with an extra touch of retro thanks to details like puffed sleeves and a low-cut V-neck collar with white ruffles. Margot Robbie was also photographed flaunting her toned legs in a Magda Butrym silk crepe polka-dot dress during a 2021 interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Recently, Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas also chose a black dress in polka dots for her appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Turns out, Hollywood's A-listers aren't the only devotees of polka dots. Princess of Wales Kate Middleton is frequently spotted stepping out in style with chic polka-dot dresses that dip just below the knee. In June this year, she mirrored the late Princess Diana's style at Royal Ascot in a black and white polka-dot dress and dazzled the crowds in a jolly azure polka-dot dress at the Platinum Jubilee Big Lunch. Obviously, the Princess of Wales is up for the task of carrying on her late mother-in-law's legacy in both duties and love for polka dots.

The dark history of polka dots

Unbeknownst to many, a pattern that exudes joy like polka dots has quite a dark history. Due to the pattern's similarity to the blisters of smallpox, a fatal illness at the time, medieval Europe first perceived the pattern as exceedingly unfortunate, per The National. Therefore, wearing dotted clothing was frowned upon throughout the European Middle Ages. When the jovial Czech dance fad known as the polka swept across Europe in the middle of the 19th century, people's unfavorable perceptions of dots began to shift. Although it's unclear how the polka dance and dots are related, the phrase "polka dot," which is used to describe a round and even clothing pattern, is said to have derived from the polka dance. In the late 1800s, polka dots became popular patterns on clothing and accessories. 

In the early 1900s, polka dots began to soar in popularity. The heyday of polka dots was probably between the 1940s and the 1960s, when a plethora of skirts, blouses, swimwear, and bowties were sold in polka-dot designs, per The Old Timey. The jaunty bespeckled print became more popular after Frank Sinatra released the ballad "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" in 1940, which became his first hit recorded with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Around the same time, the Los Angeles Times (via Town & Country) prophesied the longevity of polka dots, "You can sign your fashion life away on the polka-dotted line, and you'll never regret it." The dot craze probably reached its height in the 1950s, when the spotted motif swept the haute couture runways and became the wardrobe staple of many U.S. women, from housewives to silver screen stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, per A.G. Nauta couture