top of page

The Beat #23: The Surprising Story of Patterns: Stripes, Paisley, Floral and Polka Dots

The Beat Creative Director and illustrator, Greg Chinn of The Local Brand Co.

Our guest contributor this week is artist, designer, marketing exec and self-described “kinetic sculpture,” kHyal. She uses apparel as an artform, both in her personal style and her studio art. In fact, she and her wearable work are often photographed at shows and art fairs as much as the work on the walls. kHyal reminds us that the art we wear can be a kind of armor. We use it to express ourselves, to hide, to fit in, to stand out.

The patterns we know so well have amazing histories. They tell stories, and they have legacies. Here is kHyal’s take on these patterns and their unexpected stories.


(Shown: Dacron Adelaar 1950s striped blouse with vintage Alain Mikli sunglasses sourced in Los Angeles)

In medieval times, stripes were reserved for prisoners, clowns, prostitutes and even hangmen — in classic black and white. Much later, Queen Victoria made waves when she dressed the young Prince Albert in a sailor suit with nautical stripes for a Royal Yacht event. Coco Chanel is credited for taking inspiration from the 21-stripe French navy uniform to design her version of the continuously popular Breton shirt. Later, in the 1960s and ’70s, striped shirts gained momentum and symbolized rebellion for punks and more.


(Shown: Wilroy Ban-Lon paisley dress with vintage-inspired French sunglasses sourced in Manhattan)

This ornamental design is based on the Persian buta, a teardrop-shaped motif with a curved end. Textile designs featuring dense repeats of the design came from India. The name was derived from the town of Paisley in Scotland, a textile center where the fabrics were produced. 19th century artists wore paisley as a badge of bohemianism, and theBeatles and other rockers loved it in the 1960s. Prince brought paisley back with a fury in the 1980s, and sparked a craze in the early 1990s among indie rockers. And it adorns pretty much all of Brad Paisley’s guitars.


(Shown: Union Made in USA flower motif blouse with retro Gucci wrap sunglasses sourced in Brooklyn)

Floral motifs began appearing in apparel fabrics in 12th century China and spread throughout the Middle east and Asia. In the Victorian era the practice of communicating through bouquets and floral arrangements emerged. Known as Floriography, secret messages were sent between lovers this way. The 20th century globalized the use of floral motifs in textile prints, but no doubt the “flower power” movement of the 1960s remains memorable to most.

Polka Dots

(Shown: Pink, black and white Janzen polka dot blouse with rare vintage French sunglasses sourced in Paris)

Polka dots once signaled disease in Europe, since unevenly spaced marks on the skin were linked to maladies. Tuberculosis led to blood stains in dotted patterns on handkerchiefs. However, in parts of Africa, dots were a sign of virility and magic. There are a few theories about where these dots get their name, but we know it’s rooted in the late 19th century polka craze. In the 1940s, they were popular enough for Frank Sinatra to sing about them, and we can’t leave out the once-ubiquitous “Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Today, the ravishing work of visionary artist Yayoi Kusama brings back the magic and mystery of this storied pattern.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page