Tie-Dye: What’s Old is New Again… and Again

1 year ago by

Photos KATIE + JOE

In the spirit of “growing up,” we tasked Christina with taking a favorite clothing item of ours from childhood and styling it in an elevated and mature way–tie-dye!

To accompany the editorial, we enlisted our good friend, Amelia, to share her thoughts on the resurgence of the tie-dye trend. In her ever-witty way, she dives into its history, providing context for our adult infatuation with this seemingly adolescent design.

I’m sure my first tie-dye shirt was some monstrosity I made at a childhood birthday party, but the one I remember came from a parking lot at a Phish concert in 1999. To finance a multi-state road trip following the band on their summer tour, my brother and I concocted a plan to sell black-market goods in arena parking lots – I’d deal in dollar cans of soda and he had a backpack full of bootleg concert tees.

It was smooth sailing… for at least 45 minutes. But then, at our very first concert, security busted us for operating without a permit and confiscated both of our inventories. They let me keep the $12 I’d made and about 12 minutes later I used the cash to buy a $15 tie-dye tee from another illegal vendor. From a business perspective, it made no sense: I was in the hole $3 (not to mention pretty parched) and the summer had just begun. But I had bought myself a cotton ticket into the counterculture and that felt like a worthwhile investment.

dore tie dye fashion editorial

dore tie dye fashion editorial

Considering my intro to tie-dye, I was surprised to see psychedelic swirls all over runways and high-fashion collections this year. Prada, R13, Paco Rabanne, and Proenza Schouler all included tie-dye in their spring collections. Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, even crafted couture tie-dye dresses in silk. A Stella McCartney tie-dye tee goes for a cool $395 on Net-a-Porter (so actually, I’d say I got a pretty good deal in 1999).

Of course, even in the 90s I was late to the kaleidoscopic party. Late by almost 3,000 years. The earliest records of dying come from the T’ang Dynasty in China between 618 and 906 BC. Tie-dye as we recognize it, the practice of tying off pieces of fabric to create white designs on a colorful background, dates back to 8th century Japan and Indonesia. This artform is actually called shibori or resist-dying, a phrase that’s especially poetic considering the rebellious nature tie-dye embodied in the 1960s.

dore tie dye fashion editorial

Speaking of which, the 60s is the decade most of us associate with tie-dye, though it did have a moment in the 1920s and 30s (women turned to DIY dying during the Great Depression as an affordable way to create new clothes and home decor). Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, and John Sebastian all wore tie-dye onstage at Woodstock in 1969. Jerry Garcia not only had the tees, he also had legions of Grateful Dead fans, or Deadheads, that practically treated tie-dye as a religion.

This summer marks 50 years since Woodstock, a momentous anniversary that may be partially responsible for bringing hallucinogenic hues back into our lives. It’s hard to ignore the political parallels as well – swap in Trump for Nixon and, well, the battle for civil rights rages on now just as it did back then. In the 60s, tie-dye was a symbol of protest and individuality as well as a token of hope. Wearable hope is just as welcome today as ever before.

dore tie dye fashion editorial

On a personal note, this summer is also the 20th anniversary of my own entry into tie-dyedom. So it felt right that on a recent trip to El Salvador I found myself at Hacienda Los Nacimientos, an organic indigo farm just outside the colonial town of Suchitoto. The farm is open to the public and visitors can tour the grounds to learn how the brilliant blue dye is grown and extracted, as well as take a workshop in shibori methods. The area is famous for its indigo and the locals are proud, which is why all over Suchitoto you’ll find both men and women decked in blue tie-dye garbs. Even the colonial-era buildings, many of them with pastel facades that have faded over the decades, have a dip-dyed appearance. “It’s a tie-dye town!” I exclaimed to one one of my travel mates. “It’s tie-dye’s lost city of Atlantis.”

Rhina de Rehmann, the owner of Hacienda Los Nacimientos, started the farm in 1995, shortly after the end of El Salvador’s brutal 12-year civil war. Rehmann’s goal for the farm was twofold: First, she wanted to employ former militants – many of whom had been fighting since they were teens and knew nothing but war – to teach them new skills in farming and textiles. Second, she hoped to revive a bit of El Salvador’s former glory. Back in colonial times, indigo was so valuable, it was called “blue gold” and El Salvador was one of the world’s great producers. That all ended, however, when synthetic dye was introduced and the natural version dropped off. But it’s another story today, Rehmann says. Thanks to the rise of conscious fashion in recent years, brands have a renewed interest in organic dye. Hacienda Los Nacimientos now supplies color to labels as large as Levi’s, Gap, and Benetton. And because dye business is booming, Rehmann is able to support her local community with jobs.

dore tie dye fashion editorial
dore tie dye fashion editorial

Perhaps this is really the heart of tie-dye’s rainbow-colored return: as the fashion world becomes more attune to sustainable practices, the consumer craves clothing that is organic and real. And what could be more real than tie-dye – an artform that so many of us have practiced ourselves, literally getting our hands dirty in the process? It’s the rare tradition that delights both couturiers in the hallowed halls of Dior as well as rambunctious crowds of kids in the mess halls of summer camps.

Jerry Garcia used to sing a song called “Standing on the Moon,” which references the children of El Salvador and their civil war woes. Wouldn’t he like to know that some of those kids are now producing dyes that would make a Deadhead weak in the knees. We’ve come full circle. Or better yet, maybe it’s not so much of a circle, but a glorious, vibrant swirl.

dore tie dye fashion editorial
dore tie dye fashion editorial
dore tie dye fashion editorial
dore tie dye fashion editorial

dore tie dye fashion editorial

dore tie dye fashion editorial

dore tie dye fashion editorial

T-Shirt and Pants, Stella McCartney; Shoes, Tibi

Jumpsuit, John Elliott; T-Shirt, Collina Strada

Top, Collina Strada; Skirt, Proenza Schouler; Shoes, Tibi

Hoodie, Polo Ralph Lauren; Briefs, Land of Women

Shirt, Proenza Schouler; Dress, SVNR

Dress, John Elliott; Necklace, Wald Berlin



Add yours
  • Oh dear, I love this look and this haircut… You just made me want to have my hair cut this way for the summer, it’s gorgeous.
    Model, dancer, beautiful young woman, I just love these pictures… I wish I was 20 again (in my dreams). But being 20 in my head is basically the same, right?

  • yes Tie Dye Chic. we are LOVE TANJANE and hand dye in OJai California since 1998. love the story beautiful tie dye!

  • La slip dress : facile a porter et tres feminine. Les deux en photos sont magnifiques. (Le modele y contribue !) :-)

  • Tie dye is cool but that HAAIIIRRRCUUT! Screenshotting to bring to my stylist.

  • same! :)

From the Archives

The Hair Diaries
  • The Hair Diaries
  • Holiday Gifting
  • This or That
  • Happy Holidays!
  • #AtelierDoreDoes
10 Years of Messy Hair

10 Years of Messy Hair

The Update #5

The Update #5

haircstasy hair ari westphal curls beauty garance dore photo


beanie or bust winter running garance dore photos

Beanie Or Bust

neada jane the chop and change bumble and bumble garance dore photos

Chop & Change

hairprint garance dore beauty hair product photo


Now Hair This!

Now Hair This!

red braid bumble and bumble anthony turner proeza scholar fashion week hair garance dore photos

The Braid Debate

the impossible hair cut isabella emmack opening ceremony

The Impossible