Princess Diana is remembered as one of the most stylish women to have ever lived and throughout her life developed a flair for dressing to impress. One of the princess’s favorite fashion prints was the polka dot with Diana wearing them on everything from evening dresses to day-suits and accessories. This beloved trend has in recent years been adopted by Diana’s daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton, who is almost becoming as well regarded in terms of style as Diana was herself.
Just where the term “polka dot” comes from is unknown but it has been a part of everyday parlance since the mid-20th century. It is possible that the term derives from the traditional Czech dance, the polka, which became popular, along with its accompanying musical style, in the United States during the 1930s, reaching its heyday in the 1950s.
Princess Diana was known for her love of polka dots and wore them throughout her married life. Photographed (L) at Royal Ascot in a dress by Victor gemstone, June 1988. And (R) on an official visit to Italy, April 28, 1985.
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Though polka dots as we recognize them today stem from the mid-20th century, spots as a print have come in and out of fashion over centuries.
By the 1980s, the polka dot was seeing a spike in popularity, being used by the top Paris couturiers such as the house of Christian Dior and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. It did not take long for Britain’s new fashion-minded princess to incorporate the look into her working wardrobe.
Diana’s favorite designers during the 1980s included Catherine Walker, Bellville Sassoon, Victor Gemstone and Bruce Oldfield. These UK-based couturiers helped the princess abide by the unwritten royal rule that members of the royal family should never be behind fashion but also never be ahead of it. Diana’s polka dot wardrobe from these years is seeing a resurgence as the print is once again being used by high fashion brands in their new collections.
One member of the royal family who has adopted the polka dot with enthusiasm is Kate Middleton. Over the past 10 years that she has been a member of the royal family, the duchess has worn many bold and beautiful spotted designs from casual day looks to important official outfits.
Kate Middleton, like her mother-in-law Princess Diana, is a fan of polka dot prints. Photographed (L) at a children’s hospital event in London, December 11, 2018. And (R) at the service of thanksgiving for the life of Prince Philip, March 29, 2022.
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One of Kate’s best loved polka dot dresses comes from a brand which is almost becoming a favorite of hers as she is increasingly seen wearing their latest designs. Alessandra Rich is a British-based designer that creates clothing that pays tribute to the fashions of the 1980s. The silhouettes of the dresses in Rich’s collections pay tribute to those seen in the 80s but updated with fun modern prints. More than one of Kate’s Alessandra Rich dresses has been compared to those worn by her late mother-in-law in the 80s.
In 2018, one of the brand’s most-loved dresses was a longline polka dot dress in navy with white spots and a statement white collar. It is not surprising that the dress should feature in Kate’s wardrobe and she wore it to an event at Bletchley House, a wartime code-breaking site with links to her family, in 2019.
The blue polka dot dress is notable for one other reason and that is its striking resemblance to a design worn by Diana in 1985. Though the designer of the princess’s dress is unknown, the design bears all the hallmarks of her favorite designer Catherine Walker who made more dresses for the princess than any other designer.
Princess Diana wore a blue and white polka dot printed dress with a statement white collar for a photocall at Kensington Palace, October 6, 1985. Kate Middleton (R) wore a similar polka dot dress to an engagement at Bletchley Park, May 14, 2019 .
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Kate’s most recent outing in a polka dot creation was to attend the service of thanksgiving for the life of Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey last month. The duchess wore a monochrome polka dot dress, again by Alessandra Rich, with puffed shoulders, a belted waist and pleated skirt. The bold confident look came just days after Kate and Prince William returned from their tour of the Caribbean which received a series of criticisms from the press and on social media.
Though Diana may have championed the polka dot over 25 years ago now, the print still permeates fashionable dressing today from the local mall to a Paris runway. For Kate Middleton who, in past years, has been known for her ultra chic and controlled style, the polka dot is an injection of fun into her working wardrobe.
In the exhibition “Diana: Her Fashion Story” held at Kensington Palace in 2017, Diana was quoted as saying about her fashion: “Sometimes I can be a little outrageous which is quite nice. But only sometimes.”
Diana’s sense of fun and outrageousness in fashion is evident in her lifetime love of the powerful and purposeful polka dot.
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Princess Diana’s love of polka dots is being echoed by her daughter-in-law Kate Middleton as the print makes a triumphant fashionable resurgence. Diana (L) photographed on a visit to the Vatican, Rome April 28, 1985. And Kate Middleton (R) photographed on a visit to Bletchley Park, May 14, 2019.
John Shelley Collection/Avalon/Getty Images/Karwai Tang/WireImage