A Non-Exhaustive History of Tie-Dye, Fashion’s Favourite Lockdown Trend

From Janis Joplin to Rihanna, a brief rundown of the pervasive print.

Tie-dye hasn’t left the stream of cultural consciousness since the inception of its popularity in the late 60s and for the last few years fashion seems to be going through a tie-dye renaissance. From Stella McCartney to MSGM, Gucci to Kim Shui; its many iterations are inescapable. Through the use of different colours, patterns and fabric, the same technique boasts a creative playground of varying effects and energy in different contexts. Arguably, there isn’t anyone else that has propelled tie-dye more into the zeitgeist than A Sai Ta, the London based designer behind Asai Takeaway, responsible for the “hot wok top” that spread like wildfire through the fashion community last year (it is still being duped to this day). Worn by the likes of Rihanna, Jorja Smith and Dev Hynes you could not scroll through Instagram one day without seeing it. This year in particular, however, the technique has reached a climax in popularity, with many opting to make their own tie-dye designs DIY at home during lockdown. But why has tie-dye become so appealing again? Perhaps it is down to its history.


As a technique, tie-dye has been used for centuries by many different cultures, having arisen independently multiple times. Restrictive dying practises can be traced to Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt, China, Indonesia, India, Peru and Japan. It is thought the practise was popularised in America in the late 60s by the Peace Corp volunteers returning from West Africa. So, tie-dye became synonymous with the counterculture movement and was a way of unashamedly signalling non-conformism in a politically tumultuous America. It was later recycled by the 80s punk movement as well as 90s raver scenes; all prominent reference points for many modern designers.


It is hard to ignore the tie-dye’s current surge in popularity, awoken from a dormant state of being reserved to a summer camp activity, is timed with an increasingly unstable political, economic and cultural climate. While there is an unavoidable element of trend and commercial appropriation, in its newest manifestations, the feelings of rebellion, hope and unpretentiousness have been rekindled and reconfigured for the modern context. The whole essence and appeal of tie dye is how it is a transformative and regenerative practise, imperfect and accessible. This permeates through tie-dye, making it both consciously and unconsciously appealing. It is a vessel of playfulness and vibrancy as well as historical context.


Enjoy a retro clip from BFI Player below of a tie-dye tutorial below: