Monday, June 18, 2012

Part 2: Retro Polka Dots, Why I Don't Love Lucy

In my last blog post, I wrote about my recently sewn polka dot tee shirt. I’m a brand new convert when it comes to these retro-style spots, but I also knew there was some vaguely uncomfortable memory, that I associated them with. When I put on my new sleeveless tee, with it’s draped neckline,  I really liked what I saw in the mirror. The wisps of what I disliked were the the shades of a far-from-favorite old television show, in those vibrant polka dots.

Though I’ve come to love that tee shirt, what I still don’t love is the I Love Lucy television show, because Lucille Ball's portrayal of Lucy Ricardo was no role model for a budding, mid-twentieth century, feminist kid. In my modern-woman household, those polka dots represented some pretty old ideas of woman's place in our society. And they were ideas we were still fighting through in the sixties. In my mind, those old-style feminine behavior patterns were linked with images of the ubiquitous polka-dot dresses* that Lucy wore on the show.

I’m the first to admit there are things to admire about the television and movie comedienne whose career in film, television, stage and radio spanned a period of over forty years. No pawn for the film moguls, Lucille Ball was a hard-working woman, driven to succeed on her own terms. For those of you gals who weren’t around in the fifties and sixties, I can tell you that wasn’t an absolutely stellar time to stand up for yourself if you were born female.

Lucy made the most of her unusual looks. Instead of fitting into a standard style, she created her own. Her personal-style sense back then, is an example for us sewists who are always working to create fashions that make the most of what we were born with.

Besides that she was the first obviously pregnant woman on television. Before that, maternity was considered not very nice. Children were great, but the evidence of where they came from, and the affects of gestation on the body of a stylish woman, were something that weren't on display on the box.

My problem with the show is Lucy Ricardo's relationship with her husband. As a television star, Ms. Ball was in the role-model business, and the model of married womanhood that she represented was one that made irrational, dependent, subterfuge looked cute. Lucy, as the center point of the show, was always doing something silly because, apparently, she didn’t have any wits. The show made it clear that husbands really adored a lack of brain in their women. Cute, huh? 

Almost as cute as the fact that Lucy needed to wheedle money out of her man whenever she went beyond the financial parameters he laid out. Another great life lesson for the sixties-era female, particularly those like more than a few of the adult women in my extended family and town, who were married to somebody who were physically or emotional controlling. 

There’s also nothing cute about fooling your spouse to get what you want (instead of discussing important issues and finding ways to compromise on the priorities for a joint partnership) Pretty much every episode played up this amusing angle.

So what does Lucy’s story leave me with?  

Just fashion.

The women I see around me these days have come far enough from the dependent, ditsy, second class role that we saw on the screen back then, that we can begin to have a little fun with Lucy's style.

Nowadays, when I think of Lucille Ball, I'm just going to see spots - polka dotted spots that is. 

And I’m not the only one. In an article in “Flaunt” (“A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE POLKA DOT), Jake Levy says that a polka-dot dress was a staple wardrobe item in the “I Love Lucy” show. I would go so far as to say that Lucy was the Queen of polka-dots.


  1. I actually love polka dots, and of course remember all those I Love Lucy episodes. It is quite interesting to me that Lucy for real made a fortune off of the Ditzy Lucy, but I think it was such a sign of the times, and it is rather enjoyable to see how far we have come. I love to watch the mother's roll in Everybody Loves Raymond, too. It's good to know we've progressed, although much of the world is still in the DARK AGES, especially the Middle East, when it comes to women. They haven't even gotten to Polka Dots yet.

    1. We need to start a campaign to import polka dots to our sisters out there. I'm game if you are, Bud.