Luxury Tie-Dye: How Hippie Influenced High-Fashion

From historic craft to symbol of free spirits to runway prestige, the iconic artform of tie-dye has experienced a storied past.

Tie-Dye is in.

This is not news to anyone paying attention to designers unveiling their retro-inspired lines season after season.

Image via Gilda Midani

Although these looks may take viewers back a half-century to the American 60s, the artistic technique of selectively dyeing portions of clothing and fabrics dates back well over a millennium.

Yemeni Tiraz Textile via the MET

Tie-Dye is one of many forms of “Resist-Dye,” a term referring to a collection of various techniques where craftspeople restrict certain portions of a garment while exposing others to dye.

These techniques come in many styles capable of producing a multitude of designs – each one-of-a-kind.

Mongolian Mosen Tea Ceremony Cloth Image via Robert Bengston

Resist-dyeing can be traced back 4,000 years to the Indian practice of Bandhani, while the first traceable act of actually tying the fabric before dyeing can be found in the dyed textiles of the Bai people of the Yunnan province in China around 1,500 years ago.

Women wearing Bandhani garments ca. mid-19th Century via William Johnson and Southern Methodist University

Over the centuries, many cultures have developed their own version of resist-dyeing.

Resist-Dyed Japanese Shibori Textile

The Japanese used the art of Shibori and clamp-resisting.

Resist-Dyed Indonesian Tritik Textile

In Indonesia, artisans employed their Tritik technique.

Resist-Dyed Yoruba Adire Textile

The West African Yoruba people indigo-dyed fabrics using Adire.

Resist-Dyed Peruvian Amarra Textile

On the other side of the world, the Nazca culture of Peru created standout geometric patterns through their Amarra technique.

Despite this history of resist-dye coloring techniques, the practice had not yet become common in European cultures and those that stemmed from them.

With the emergence of synthetic dye technology in the mid-19th century, dyeing clothes and garments at home was a familiar practice in the United States… done to give old items a fresh look and avoid spending money on new products.

Diamond Dyes Advertisement ca. late 19th Century via Science History Institute

It wasn’t until the early 20th century when resist-dye techniques would be introduced to Americans.

Synthetic dye technology continued to improve and became more accessible to the public, while at the same time, the late 1800’s Arts & Crafts movement was bringing widespread appreciation and popularity to decoration and handmade goods.

Video by British Pathé

The Monroe Chemical Company, a prominent dye manufacturer of the time, even included an introduction to “tied dyeing” with tutorials of how to achieve specific designs in a 1928 catalog.

The Monroe Chemical Company 1928 Catalog Page 4 of The Art of Tied Dyeing Article
The Monroe Chemical Company 1928 Catalog Page 2 of The Art of Tied Dyeing Article
The Monroe Chemical Company 1928 Catalog Page 3 of The Art of Tied Dyeing Article

Although this early era of tie-dye brought the artform to the US, this awareness paled in comparison to the cultural phenomenon it would become just a few decades later.

Festival Image via Popperfoto

The American 1960’s brought several counterculture ideals to the mainstream, including hippies.

Among the many philosophies tied to hippies were that of the DIY movement, distaste for identical, mass-produced goods, the interest in and embrace of the crafts of different cultures, and the use of psychedelics.

Ken Kessey and the Merry Prankster’s Bus Image via Jeremy Hogan

The visual characteristics and production methods of tie-dye just so happened to coalesce with these categories, with its foreign roots and accessibility to create one-of-a-kind pieces, as well as its ability to present intense, abstracted colors similar to the experience of an acid trip.

These factors all came together, allowing the style to take hold of the counterculture and become the movement-defining, iconic look of the era.

Musician John Sebastain Wearing Tie-Dye Clothing and Making Tie-Dye with Friend
Musician John Sebastain Wearing Tie-Dye and Lying Down in Tie-Dye Painted Tent

John Sebastian Making and Wearing Tie-Dye Images via Henry Diltz

This pivotal adoption can partially be credited to musicians donning the colorful attire at the infamous Woodstock concert of 1969, as well as the commercial efforts of the Rit dye company.

Image via Rit Dye

Rit’s marketing had previously been aimed at the original, frugal American use of dye, but their new marketing manager, Don Price, searched for a novel market by working with New York City artists to help promote the look of tie-dye.

Rit-Dye Advertisement Promoting Recoloring Old Fabrics with the Company's Dyes
1958 Rit Dye Advertisement
1960's Rit-Dye Advertisement Displaying Tie-Dye Styled Linens in a Teenager's Room
1970’s Rit Dye Advertisement

This collaboration paid off, sending the style to Woodstock and beyond.

John Sebastian Performing at Woodstock Image via Henry Diltz

After this success, Price wasn’t finished with influencing hippie culture.

He turned to high fashion, eventually catching the attention of the designer Halston who went on to present various tie-dye designs seen in Vogue throughout the early 1970’s after being introduced to Rit dyes.

Early Halston Tie-Dye Designs

Following Halston’s creations, tie-dye was solidified in luxury fashion, serving as inspiration to other designers.

Halston Tie-Dye Dress ca. 1972 Image via Duane Michals

Although tie-dye will likely never again reach the heights of its 1960’s zeitgeist, it’s having a particularly unique moment as of late.

Straying away from the primary colors and simple patterns of the hippies, current designers utilizing the style are applying complicated twists, folds and more to their garments in inventive ways to expand and extend the style.

Image via Jil Sander

Jil Sander’s recent offerings paint moody, contrasting dyes on top of monochrome, high-end silhouettes.

Image via Avant Toi

Although painted on opposed to tied and dyed, Avant Toi complements their handmade, avant-garde and experimental approach to forming garments with the aesthetic look of tie-dye and its ability to create singular designs.

Image via Gilda Midani

Gilda Midani works tie-dye into her other resist-dye coloring techniques to produce clothing in her signature vibrant and playful style.

Halston Tie-Dye Toga ca. 1971 Image via Bert Stern

As its recent popularity can attest, from ancient artisans to counterculture movements to contemporary, high-end designers, the impacts and significance of tie-dye will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

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