Much has been made of the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Diana’s shared love of polka dots. When Kate Middleton wears the cartoonish print, comparisons are immediately drawn to Lady Di’s spotted Sloane Ranger looks. Claims of the royal paying homage to her late mother-in-law are bandied around, and royal style watchers go wild for fashion history seemingly repeating itself then and now.
Rarely do we stop and think that the Duchess might simply like the Minnie Mouse motif for the same reasons Diana did. Polka dots are immediately cheering, but possess none of the saccharine quality of florals. They appear zany, without treading into animal print territory, which would be deemed too daring for royalty. The splashy pattern requires little in the way of accessorizing, and spells out an effortless approachability that a plain navy look can never muster. In terms of bang for your buck, the polka dot is hard working.
It’s no wonder then that this charming print, which was originally named after the polka dance craze that captivated Europe in the mid-19th century, forms the backbone of Kate’s wardrobe, particularly in the summer when her trusty dress coats are not the answer to every formal occasion. The Duchess’s failsafe, work-for-all-occasions polka dot dresses come from Alessandra Rich, a woman who majors in polite, ladylike collared looks that toe the line between conservative and glamorous.
Kate’s favorite style, which has taken her from garden parties to Wimbledon, was inspired by Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 photograph of a sailor kissing a stranger in Times Square, but, according to Rich, nods to Princess Margaret’s own jaunty-yet-polished take on royal dressing. “The polka dot is a powerful print for a dress,” says Rich. “It is classic but playful, sober and light, iconic and ironic.” The Italy-born, London-based designer’s prim and pretty pieces, accordingly, sell like hotcakes because of their seductive-smart flair. Kate’s own archive, including My Fair Lady white numbers and holiday-appropriate turquoise styles, looks wonderfully disarming in a sea of stuffy suits and fascinators.
Her other polka dot purveyors are less retro, more classic royal. She chose a pale blue dotty Jenny Packham dress to introduce Prince George to the world outside the Lindo Wing in 2013 – a move that mirrored Diana’s own maternity wear with Prince William – and has a smart navy and white Emilia Wickstead shirt dress, which she dresses down with Castañer wedge espadrilles. Her nod to high fashion comes via Prada, but Kate has also been known to wear Topshop.
“The polka dot is an elegant and universal print that never goes out of fashion,” adds Rich of its endless allure. “There is never a wrong occasion for a polka dot dress.” Indeed, the Duchess has yet to prove her wrong.
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk