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STYLE AND CULTURE

CULT ITEM: TIE-DYE

By Chris Sayer, May 14, 2020

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 past 50 years. It's proven itself a trend that refuses to go away for long – and now, with its psychedelic swirls brightening up the menswear landscape again (and keeping us occupied while we've been staying home), we felt it only right to take a look back on the historic rise of this peace-loving cult classic…

A close-up picture of a tie-dye T-shirt.

Flower power staples

While the ancient art of tie-dye can be traced as far back as 500 AD, things really kicked off for the iconic design during the late 60s in 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 for ever. 

Woodstock 1969

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, and 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. Throughout the 70s, tie-dye would then firmly establish itself as the go-to look for peace-loving hippies during protests and war rallies.

A picture of a group of friends attending a rave in the 90s.

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 it's the warehouses of Manchester that became a hub of kaleidoscopic colour. As the psychedelic sounds of Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, filled the ears of the all-night elite, tie-dye made its defiant comeback. It was a look that hammered home the hedonistic ‘Summer Of Love 2.0’ state of mind that emerged in this shape-throwing party culture. 

A picture of a steet styler wearing a tie-dye T-shirt.

Picture:

Modern sleaze, pls

2018 saw tie-dye reimagined into another, slightly more flash-in-the-pan, trend moment when style lord Jonah Hill emerged onto the streets wearing a tie-dye T-shirt from the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic b-ball team (complete with dunking skeleton). It  became one of the catalysts of 2018’s outrageous ‘summer of sleaze’ trend, where celebs such as Justin Bieber and Post Malone all looked a little more carefree, and a whole lot… grubbier. A gloriously scuzzy atmosphere that allowed tie-dye to go mainstream all over again.

A picture of a model wearing a tie-dye T-shirt on the Versace catwalk during Fashion Week.

Pictures: Getty

Catwalk and couture

You’re absolutely right to think that we’re taking a huge leap from dirtbag chic to the pristine catwalks of Milan. 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, it's little wonder the likes of Versace, Off-White, MSGM and Rochas got busy with the bright colours and wild swirls at their SS20 shows last autumn. They couldn't have known tie-dye would come to define our lockdown looks – but boy, are we here for it. 

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