Whether on the backs of Woodstock’s flower-powered hippies or Manchester’s sweat-drenched ravers, tie-dye has been making us more colourful for the last 50 years. It's proven itself a trend that refuses to go away for long, and one that you can count on to rear its head again when the political or musical climate is just right. Now, with its psychedelic swirls and kaleidoscopic colours drenching the SS19 catwalks, we felt it only right to take a look back on the historic rise of this peace-loving cult classic…
STYLE AND CULTURE
CULT ITEM: TIE DYE
By Chris Sayer, 8 April 2019
Flower power staples
While the ancient art of tie-dye can be traced as far back as 500AD, to find the beginning of its famous association with free-love and counterculture we need to swing back to the 60s, and to the bohemian capital of the world – New York’s Greenwich Village. There, a marketing bright spark named Don Price altered the fortunes of his supermarket dye-making employers, Rit, by persuading them to drop their old-school boxed powders for colourful dyes in squeezy bottles. And after convincing a handful of artists to use them to create T-shirts he could sell at a hip new local festival, things changed forever.
Woodstock to the world
Not only would tie-dye become synonymous with every single festival that followed this now-legendary three-dayer called Woodstock in August 1969, but it was there that the patron saints of tie-dye culture were established: Janis Joplin, thanks to her kaleidoscopic 'fit during her main stage set; Joe Cocker, who sang the heck out of the Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends with a little help from a seriously psychedelic top; and stoner rockers The Grateful Dead, whose diehard fans, the Dead Heads, would adopt tie-dye tees as their uniform. As for the flower children in the crowd, tie-dye would roll with them out of the muddy fields and into the early 1970s, where, in protests and war rallies, it would forever attach itself to the peace-loving, establishment-shirking hippie movement.
Appropriate rave attire
Switch out the crowns of daisies for party-battered bucket hats, swap one mind-altering substance for another and flash forward 20 years, and you’ll arrive atop yet another tidal wave of hippie swirls –only this time it’s crashing into the warehouses of Manchester rather than the fields of New York. As the trippy sounds of acid house DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, and the psychedelic ‘baggy’ beats of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses filled the ears of the all-night elite, tie-dye made its defiant comeback to really hammer home the hedonistic Summer Of Love 2.0 state of mind that had emerged in this shape-throwing party culture.
Modern sleaze steez
Until 2018, Lithuanian basketball was most notable for producing slick-passing Portland big man Arvydas Sabonis. Then unlikely style lord Jonah Hill emerged onto the streets wearing what became one of last year’s most iconic wildcard pieces – a tie-dye T-shirt from the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic b-ball team depicting a skeleton mid-dunk, paired up with a white Ralph Lauren cap, white trousers, and white loafers. His standout tee was one of the catalysts of 2018’s outrageous ‘summer of sleaze’ trend, where our favourite 20-something celebs all looked a little more carefree, and a whole lot… grubbier. Bieber rocking the greasiest locks of his career. Pete Davidson’s zero-Fs pattern clashes. Post Malone’s perpetual sartorial hangover. A gloriously scuzzy atmosphere that allowed tie-dye, with its psychedelic drop-out aesthetic, to spread like wildfire once again.
Catwalk and couture
You’re absolutely right to think that we’re taking a huge leap from Jonah and co’s dirtbag chic to the pristine catwalks of Paris. But read the room for a moment – you can’t argue that we’re living through an era of unrest and disquiet that’s uneasily similar to that of tie-dye’s heyday. What’s more, with its associations with environmentalism and sustainability – owing to a cut-and-sew, one-of-a-kind aesthetic that blows raspberries in the face of fast fashion – the pattern is ideal for us reusable-cup-toting, bag-for-life-waving heroes. Little wonder the likes of Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, MSGM and Dior Homme got busy with the bright colours and wild swirls – across jackets and suits as well as tees and tops – at their SS19 shows. And boy, are we here for it.