September 9, 2011 9:53 pm

Join the dots

Need to know: polka prints add pizzazz

What? Move over stripes, there’s another pattern in town. The favoured motif of Minnie Mouse, Pierrot clowns, Ginger Rogers and amateur flamenco dancers everywhere, dots (not to be confused with spots, as in the sort most often seen on the skins of wild cats) are fun, playful and still, somehow, sophisticated.

Where? All over the autumn/winter catwalks. Dots lent Paul Smith’s slouchy tailored trousers a lighthearted twist while Lanvin and Yves Saint Laurent used them to give LBDs a little extra pizzazz. Marc Jacobs went for a head-to-toe look: one model wore a pillbox hat, frilled blouse, palazzo pants, gloves and clutch all in black and white dots, to dizzying effect. Young British designer Louise Gray turned her circlets Day-Glo and transformed them into stickers for models’ faces in homage to performance artist Leigh Bowery (not to mention the stationery cupboard). Diane von Furstenberg nodded to Bridget Riley via black dots on a white background, and white dots on black. As for Stella McCartney, she made her dots 3-D: sprinkled across sheer camisoles and pencil skirts, they looked like bubbles captured in ready-to-wear.

Why? “It’s hard to wear dots and be grumpy,” says Karen Bonser, design director of Topshop. She used polka dots in the brand’s Unique show, partly inspired by the splodgy black and white designs of 101 Dalmatians. “They are a happy thing.” Think of them as a sartorial mood enhancer, guaranteed to make people smile. After all, they were originally named after that uplifting dance, the polka. Indeed, the playful print seems to have struck a chord with celebrities wanting grown-up glamour that shows their fun side: Stella McCartney’s black dress with sheer, dot-festooned panels has already been worn by actors Kate Winslet and Liv Tyler; model Karen Elson wore hers to the fashion event of the summer, Kate Moss’s wedding.

Should you invest? Polka dots are a classic that comes back into fashion as reliably as a boomerang. Not only that, they’re usually associated with summer, so buy now and they’re likely to be viable for another year at least. That said, the long-sighted investor will stick to trans-seasonal pieces such as Paul Smith’s trousers (£445) or the polka-dot heart-print shirt from Asos (£35) – rather than, say, a coat – in order to get something that is pretty much always ready-to-wear. The debut resort collection from Lulu Kennedy’s Lulu & Co range has perhaps the ultimate buy for the brave: jeans designed in collaboration with House of Holland featuring, natch, a polka-dot print (£175). While dot-fan Kennedy says “clash them with stripes”, the more cautious dresser might want to follow the advice of Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols: “Think of this trend as more an accent, and tailor it to taste.” See Asos’ pillbox polka-dot hat (£10), which would easily update a simple dress for a wedding or cocktail party, and Kurt Geiger’s Dalmatian-style boots (£180), ideal for lending an edge to jeans or mannish tailoring. Other options on the high street are pretty blouses at Oasis (£25-£30) and Reiss’s sheer shirt (£89), while Bonser says Topshop’s trousers with mini spots (£55) are popular.

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