Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gone Dotty

It wasn’t until I received a copy of our home appraisal that I realized I had a problem. What’s interesting to me is that it is neither the clutter, for which, happily, nothing was deducted from the appraised value of my home, nor my last minute whirlwind de-cluttering attempts that apparently amounted to nothing that is problematic. It’s my previously unrealized affection, or perhaps affliction, for dots.
Included in the appraisal were five pictures: one into my daughter’s room, two of the room above the garage (East Wing: erstwhile school room), one of the upstairs bathroom, and one of our family room. Bedspread, blanket, kitchen towel, shower curtain, jar, bowl. There they were – in all five pictures. Dots!


But why are dots a problem? Well, they’re not spots, as in leopard spots, or zebra stripes, or giraffe polygons. Colorful dots scream out to my bold graphic design sensibilities but cannot be neatly grouped with my established attraction to animal prints. They are perfectly round circles without depth, variation, which can’t even be found in nature. Okay, they can be found in nature, but not on animals. 
Even with that serious limitation, there is something about dots that I find quite appealing, though in an uncharacteristic sort of Suzy homemaker way.
Two days after I made this realization, an essay and slide show describing the historic meaning of dots in fashion was published in Slate.  Like the dots themselves, it made me smile.


By 1936, polka dots were sufficiently big business for the fashion industry that shoe designer Miss Mary Bendalari sued Irving Fox of the National Retail Dry Goods Association for copyright infringement of her strap-sandal designs, as well as polka-dot and daisy patterns. "Wearing an 'original' dress of dark blue-and-white striped chiffon over blue, with a belt decoration of red and blue stars and a corsage cluster of small 'gold stars' in honor of the 'friends of design copyright,' " which she dubbed the "Constitutional Inspiration" and dedicated to Mr. Fox, Miss Bendalari defended designers' right to accrue coin based on designs featuring unique variants on the polka dot."How can you copyright a polka dot or a daisy, or claim as original arrangement of polka dots or any adaptation of the daisy motif?" demanded Fox, to which Bendalari spunkily (if illogically) retorted, "There is only one principle here, no matter how you smother it with polka dots. ... We base our demand for copyright protection on the Constitution, in which our right to it is specifically provided." Bendalari ultimately lost the suit, but her plucky defense (and fetchingly patriotic ensemble) epitomized the polka dot as the energetic motif nouveau for modern women.
Quite similar to animal prints in their appeal, dots make me happy. It’s interesting to note that with the exception of my 1950s housewife apron, I reserve their use for basic household items rather than fashion accessories. Why this is true may be summed up best by the author of the Slate piece, “Seeing Spots”. 
Clean, friendly, upbeat, durable, and universally pleasing, polka dots signaled the triumphant pulse of midcentury America.

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