Kicking out Jeff Chandler, her cross-dressing lover, the 1950s actress and swimmer Esther Williams delivered the immortal parting shot: “Jeff, you’re too big for polka dots.”
A great one-liner for ending a relationship, but not entirely fair – to polka dots or, perhaps, even Chandler. As with so many things, size matters. Not necessarily yours, but certainly that of the dots. It’s really simple. If you want to look elegant, keep them small – the size of a £2 coin is probably as big as you should go if you want to play it safe. They look particularly good on silk, and in strong contrasts white on black, black on white, cream and brown, beige and navy.
All of this makes for grown-up, rather grand dressing for occasions when a touch of class is required. I remember a wedding, years ago, where the most perfect outfit was worn by a Swedish woman who was by no means young. She had topped a smoky-grey crepe de Chine dress with a grey picture hat covered in white polka dots. She stole the show.
But polka dots have another side that can be very young and very fun. Think circus clowns. Or Liquorice Allsorts. Brightly coloured on dark backgrounds, or vice versa, they work more easily than their formal equivalents. Knitted, crocheted or printed on cotton, they are ageless and wearable on any occasion, from a pop concert to dressing for the office. Learn to do the polka this summer.
(First published June 2006)

Illustration by David Wolfe. [Originally published in Paper Doll Studio Magazine, #87 Fall 2006]