How To Pull Off The Polka-Dot Trend That's Taking Over Summer 2022 Style Guides

Polka dots and the 1920s go together like Jay Gatsby and a good party. So when polka dots showed up as a trending pattern for spring and summer 2022, we weren't surprised. Polka dots are timeless; they entered the spotlight in 1926 on Miss America's swimsuit, were immortalized in 1928 on Minnie Mouse's dress, and flooded every corner of the fashion market by the 1930s (via The Hair Pin). If you think polka dots are old-fashioned, think again.

Polka dots may inspire nostalgic feelings for the 1950s and '60s, but there's an edgier side to those eras this pattern can evoke. 2022 fashion trends are reflecting our collective reawakening, shifting from cottagecore and cabincore styles that lean heavily on flowy but minimalist design, to getting back to going out, going to the office, weddings — living outside of our houses, and not just in nature, again. Runways reflect this hunger to live and have been filled with cutout designs, low-rise jeans, and mini skirts — styles ready to be copied. In other words, skin is in, per The Zoe Report.

Polka dots were spotted throughout designs at Fashion Week in Paris, with patterns showing up in evening and formal wear. But as The Zoe Report reminds us, polka dots are a pattern that transcends the time of day; it all comes down to how you wear your polka dots.

What not to do with polka dots

Knowing when or how to wear polka dots can be hard to figure out, especially if you're new to the world of playful patterns. Fashion stylist Amy Lu told Canadian Living when you're adding polka dots — or any pattern — to your outfit, it should leave you feeling comfortable and empowered. She suggested keeping the pattern size proportional to the part of your body you're wearing your polka dots. "Something to keep in mind with any pattern is that the larger and bolder it is, the less forgiving it is," Lu warned. "When you are long and lean, there is more of you to accommodate the pattern (and) the opposite is true for shorter people."

Polka dots might not be the best pattern choice for every occasion. With their whimsical and warm vibes, you might want to stray away from polka dots for your job interview, for example. Anna Akbari, wardrobe consultant and founder of styling business Closet Catharsis, told Slate that polka dots are great if you want to show off your creative side, but aren't the best pattern if you want to impress your future boss at a law office.

If you want to wear polka dots for serious occasions, though, Bustle recommends going with luxe fabric, like the Colette Sheer Dotted Blouse from Morning Lavender. You can use the blouse either as a layering piece under a blazer, or pair it with a skirt or dress pants in a solid color.

Try these styles if you're polka dot shy

Adding patterns into your wardrobe can be daunting, especially if you're used to only solids. But jumping on a new trend doesn't have to mean you re-do your entire wardrobe. Since polka dots rarely go out of style anyway, each spotted piece you add to your collection should stay in style for decades.

Whether you're new to polka dots or a pattern veteran, having polka-dotted accessories on hand is the best way to add flair to an outfit. Bustle recommends scarves (like J. Crew's skinny silk scarf) with polka dots since they're so versatile. You can use scarves as a headband, tie them around your handbag, or even use your scarf as a belt. Or if scarves are too much, go with a headband, like the Polka dot raffia knot headband from J. Crew Factory to add a splash of whimsical but subtle summer flare to your outfit.

If you're not quite ready to go bold with your polka dots, Amy Lu told Canadian Living a polka-dot blouse worn with a cardigan or vest, will break up the pattern, and no matter what size or color your polka dots are, you'll look stylish.

Wearing polka dots can make you seem more approachable

Polka dots are deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness — many of us can recall humming Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." Polka dots can also leave us feeling nostalgic for a time that never existed. They've transcended decades, jumping from Minnie Mouse's skirt to Julia Roberts' polo match dress in "Pretty Woman."

If you thought it was just you, don't worry; there's actually a scientific reason why polka dots can provoke warm, happy feelings. Ingrid Fetell writes in her book "Lee in Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness" that there is research showing that "people implicitly associate curved forms with safety and positivity while associating sharp angles with danger and negativity" (via Teen Vogue).

With that in mind, consider throwing on a polka-dotted dress if you're heading out on a first date or meeting up with friends for brunch. People loved the way Gwen Stefani rocked the head-to-toe polka dot look: you can find similar options from ASOS if you want to copy the look. For a more casual take, try a lyocell-blend dress or cotton dress from H&M, either alone or with a belt and cardigan.

Polka dots, but make them edgy

Just because polka dots are a fun pattern doesn't mean they can't be edgy. It all comes down to the type of dots you pick and the pieces you pair them with. Elodie Grace Orkin sported polka dots at the "Stranger Things 4" premiere and looked anything but whimsical and sweet. The Christopher John Rogers Resort 2022 dress she was wearing not only has a strawberry-shaped silhouette but blends stripes into a polka dot-filled skirt (via Red Carpet Fashion Awards).   

Vogue Arabia saw designer Jason Wu use polka dots in asymmetrical pieces, where monochromatic polka dots were collaged instead of scattered in a set pattern. River Island has a similar style dress modeled in the Wu Fashion Show that incorporates cut-outs, another major summer 2022 trend. When a dress has this much going on, though, you're going to want to let it be the main focus and pair it with minimal accessories. For shoes, Vogue suggests a pair of stilettos as tall as you can handle.

Oversized polka-dotted dresses paired with sneakers is another punky style Vogue Arabia got excited over that, if you're feeling daring enough, you should absolutely copy this summer. Pair an oversized t-shirt dress with a pair of Keds or Converse and a leather jacket for a fun, retro vibe, as Krystin Tysire suggests. Or, to give the outfit a little more edge, PopSugar recommends combat boots and a thick belt to complete your look.

Mixing polka dots with other 2022 summer fashion trends

Edgy isn't the only fashion trend that polka dots can be transferred to. With summer 2022's vintage vibes, polka dots fit into your outfit for any occasion. The biggest thing to remember, Vogue UK says, is that the lines with trends are blurred: Wear what you feel best in. You won't be alone. 

Stitch Fix notes that cottagecore, while declared to be over, is still in style for summer 2022. This means by pairing a long, flowy skirt, like the En Saison Tiered Polka Dot Maxi Skirt from Anthropologie, with a white t-shirt, you're more than on-trend. Since mixing structure and flow are also in, according to Vogue UK, add a cropped blazer, like the Current Air Cropped Jacquard Blazer from Anthropologie, to make this outfit office-ready. Still need to balance soft with edge? Swap out the blazer for a cropped leather jacket, like the Cropped Moto Jacket from Garage

Americana, Stitch Fix says, is another fashion trend you're going to see everywhere for summer 2022. To match your dots to this patriotic color palette, try matching either dark blue or white jeans with the Elaine Pocket Short Sleeved Tee in Navy by Market and Spruce. Like Stitch Fix notes, salsa red and midnight blue are big this year, so don't be afraid your outfit is going to look too patriotic if you throw on red shoes or a headband.