As far as I see it, there are two types of women who wear polka dots: Women who had posters of Holly Golightly hung up in their dorm rooms, and women who made fun of those women. It's the difference between Kate Spade and Rei Kawakubo — Zooey Deschanel and Yayoi Kusama (it seems that Japanese women with blunt bob haircuts fall more in the latter category). If you have ever googled “French girl beauty secrets,” you are probably the kind of woman who wears polka dots. If you have ever thought to yourself “The most boring thing in the world is to want to be French,” you probably also wear polka dots.
It makes sense, then, that polka dots become a massive fashion trend every five years or so, given the push-and-pull nature of our relationship with femininity. Sometimes, we embrace it — from the recent apex of the Pinterest aesthetic to that brown dress from Pretty Woman, it’s trendy for women to perform as females. Polka dots come in fit-and-flared dresses and low-cut swiss dot blouses, swiftly providing us that sweet Provence look that’s quirky enough to not be boring. Other times, we like to skewer the notion that women should dress like ladies. That’s when you’ll see polka dots worn with tattoos and combat boots, or on giant clown-pant culottes and muumuu-like tent dresses.
Which brings us to now — when “acting like a woman” means something beyond just the personal. The people we elect, the work we seek, the freedoms we flex, and the protections we assume depend on us claiming and protecting the things that make us women. The reactions have been all over the place; polka dots have been too. Reformation’s reinventions of vintage classics feel sexy, but also commanding; Jacquemus’ deconstructed pastoral peasant blouses and dresses are sweet, but also sinister. Some polka dots are 100% ladylike. Others are decidedly not. But as far as spots and femininity go, all manifestations are fair game in 2017.