The Polka Dot Craze of the 19th Century
"Before they were called polka dots, dotted fabrics in Europe went through many different names.
Raised dots on tulle were called Dotted-Swiss, the French had quinconce for the dots on a die, and the German had Thalertupfen for the Thaler coin.
In Spanish dots are called lunares, or “little moons”.
The modern term “Polka Dot” comes from the polka dance craze that swept through Europe in the mid-19th century.
No one is really sure where the word “polka” comes from, though there is some evidence that it refers to a Polish woman, although the dance itself is Bohemian in origin. Others believe that the word comes from the Czech pulka for “half”, in reference to the dance’s small steps.
While the connection between the dance and pattern isn’t clear, it’s thought that the pattern evokes the cheerful, light nature of the dance. Europeans were absolutely crazy about the polka, much like the Charleston of the 1920’s or the Macarena of the 1990’s.
Clever businesses took advantage of “polka mania’ and began manufacturing different types of polka-themed products. Many “polka” items came from the European polka craze of the 1840’s, including the polka hat and polka jacket, but only the polka dot (and the dance itself) seems to have stuck around.
The term “polka dots” to refer to a spotted fabric first appeared in print in 1857 in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a Philadelphia-based women’s magazine of the time period." Courtesy: The Old Timey