How to Wear Polka Dots Without Looking Like a Life-Size Minnie Mouse

Polka dots in the fall and pre-fall collections.

Monse Pre-Fall 2017, Balenciaga Fall 2017, J.Crew Fall 2017; Images: Courtesy of Monse, Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images, Imaxtree

On October 1, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, known for her untiring obsession with “round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing” polka dots, will open a five-story museum dedicated to her work in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. And if the Fall 2017 collections are any indication, around that time, fashion will imitate art.

The latest runways were loaded with polka dots. Designers from Simon Porte Jacquemus to Dries Van Noten played with scale and color, scattering a pattern once associated with cliché, all-too-wholesome midcentury femininity over compelling contemporary pieces. J.Crew freshened up a familiar idea — the white shirtdress — with a sheer dotted and frilled overlay. Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia put forth polka-dot versions of those influencer-beloved “Knife” stilettos along with a spotted tent-like gown and matching (in pattern and volume) tote.

For Pre-Fall 2017, Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the duo behind Monse (and Oscar de la Renta), proved that, yes, you can wear the cheery pattern head to toe without looking like a life-size Minnie Mouse. The key is to avoid Mary Janes and A-line dresses and instead reach for deconstructed suiting dresses, oversized pajama blouses, flowy trousers and double-breasted blazers with vaguely 80s shoulders.

Polka dots on the Fall 2017 runways.

Dries Van Noten Fall 2017, Jacquemus Fall 2017, Giambattista Valli Fall 2017; Images: Imaxtree

Jacquemus was of a similar mindset, showing abstracted, frilly, puff-sleeve blouses in polka-dot print as well as a ruched, asymmetric-hem skirt he paired with cropped flares and a tube top. (For fall, we’d recommend swapping the low-coverage style for an off-the-shoulder top.)

Van Noten and Giambattista Valli offered up slightly less obvious polka-dot pieces. At the Belgian designer’s 100th show, Alek Wek walked the runway in a velvety Technicolor dress, white pumps and a chunky maroon choker. The bisected black-and-white dots that lined the midi’s lower half weren’t necessarily the focal point of her look. Valli, known for his edgy, ultra feminine pieces (hello, Rihanna), showed eye-catching ruffled blouses covered in cherries and teeny black dots and gauzy, spotted evening looks. While girly polka-dot ensembles can seem a bit twee, open-toe lace-up boots and unexpected materials kept the overall vibe modern, sophisticated and even sexy.

Off the runways, influencers have warmly embraced the cheery pattern that takes its name from the equally jovial Czech dance.

It’s not about the face it’s about the clothes..

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Atlanta-based blogger Reese Blutstein revved up a simple white tee/black paper-bag-waist trouser look with a polka-dotted red and navy duster. Those who are of two minds about the pattern (but love breaking in a new trend), take note: a mix of colors draws focus away from the dots.


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Refinery29 Fashion Market Editor Alyssa Coscarelli kept her polka-dot button-down (sourced from The Break Vintage) current with well-cut, frayed Levi’s, cap/square-toe slingbacks and a cutesy mini bag.

Thank you Milano what a treat!

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Claire Beermann (of C’est Clairette and Man Repeller) played with shapes. Beermann offset the sweetness of her sheer, ruffled blouse by layering it over a black turtleneck and under a gridded, well-tailored blazer. The final touch? Silver orb-accented earrings to match her spotted top.

Tamron Hall rocked a black-and-white polka-dot pantsuit by Monse. The never-not-chic TV personality paired the bold look with thick gold hoops and a simple white mani.

We’d sum up everyone’s styling tricks thusly:

1. Branch out from classic black-and-white dots.

2. Combine trends to anchor your polka-dotted look in the here and now. (Polka dot off-the-shoulder tops and wrap dresses are all the rage right now.)

3. Downplay the print with a simple white tee.

4. Have fun with geometry.

5. When wearing head-to-toe dots, play with proportions and keep the rest of your look clean.

Ready to shop the newest outgrowth of the greater redefining femininity trend? (Dot. Dot. Dot.) Shop our polka-dot picks in the gallery below.