Cherry print has become almost synonymous with retro fashion. A quick google search for retro dresses will bring up a plethora of garments covered in cherries, often with polka dots in the background, too. There are a few dressed like that in my pre-sewing wardrobe, too, as reproductive vintage clothing was my go-to. Saying that, cherry print isn’t the most authentic reproduction trend.
So, what is it about cherries that makes people think of “vintage” fashion? What’s more, why are there so many reproduction garments that have polka dots in the background? Was the symbol of the cherry as prevalent as reproduction garments would have us believe?
Cherries have long been a part of women’s clothing trend since the turn of the twentieth century but not really in the way we think they were. For instance, dresses were more likely to have featured cherry motifs rather than full-on cherry prints, and they weren’t anywhere near as prolific or commonplace as reproduction fashion designers would have us believe. Cherry motifs would usually have been embroidered on (which was costly, so it wasn’t a style for most women).
At the turn of the twentieth century, cherries were regarded as a symbol of innocence, especially if they also featured alongside cherry leaves. Early examples of cherries on gowns are hard to find, but this is a beautiful example from 1898. (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). I would absolutely wear this!
The designer of this dress was Jean-Philippe Worth. He was well known for his elaborate gowns and intricate trims, as was his father, Charles Frederick Worth, under whom he apprenticed. The detailing on the back of the dress is particularly beautiful, I think. The House of Worth was a favourite of celebrities and royalty at the turn of the century, but their popularity dwindled in the early twentieth century and Jean-Philippe left the House after the First World War.
Cherries were seen a little more frequently after the war, usually on everyday cotton dresses like this 1930’s example (also held at the Met). You’ll notice that the leaves are more of a feature than the cherries.
During the 1940s, cherries would become commonplace in jewellery such as Bakelite brooches and necklaces.
Along with other kinds of fruits, cherries began to appear on home goods like tablecloths, dinnerware and kitchen canisters in the 1950’s.
I don’t think I’m overstretching when I suggest that this trend may well have been influenced, in part, by diner culture and the popularity of pies. There are a lot of vintage ads featuring pies from this era!
The polka dots are an easier trend to answer for – they were popularised in 1930’s fashion.
Can you tell I’m getting a little carried away here? I could collate a thousand images of these beautiful starlets if I let myself.
Polka dots continued to be incredibly popular for the next couple of decades; they were much more common that the cherry which was usually seen as an accent as these examples pictured below; a Sears catalogue and McCalls 1956 sewing pattern.
One of the most memorable examples of a cherry print dress (and it really is one of very few) is Marilyn Monroe but this was in 1961 on the set of The Misfits. With Marilyn as emblematic of a sexual revolution, you can read what you like into this dress.
The combination of polka dots and cherries was never really a thing, though – they were two separate trends I suppose reproductive fashion is trying to capitalise on the retro look by combining the two. Yes, these prints are reminiscent of vintage styles but the way in which we use them together is very modern.