The 60s were an era of psychedelic imagery, with everything from posters to album covers to electric lamps offering swirling rainbows of vivid patterns that perfectly accompanied the psychedelic music of the generation. In an effort To add the same colorful vibrancy to their apparel, people turned to an ancient art of tie-dye.

One of the oldest ways of manipulating color in fabric design, tie-dye is a technique that has been used all over the world for centuries. The Japanese used it to create their beautiful kimonos, by tightly binding small puckers of fabric with thread, then submerging them in various dyes. Nigerian women used a similar technique, where they tied their fabrics into knots, then proceeded to dye the cloth the color of blue indigo. When the knot was later removed, the fabric within the knotted area remained its original shade, while the rest displayed a vibrant blue.

All of this is accomplished by the fact that, unless a fabric is loose, dye tends not to penetrate it. By simply binding certain portions, whether it be with knots or rubber bands or string (even rocks and clothespins are sometimes used) those sections of fabric remain unaltered by the effects of the dye. One can then re-knot or bind the clothing in a different area to apply contrasting colors and create true works of art.

When those magical 60s rolled around, the lovable hippies of the day were fond of embracing the ethnic arts and crafts of generations past. And, for hopefully obvious reasons, they were also rather fond of bright color patterns. Tie-dye offered the best of both worlds.

There was nothing subtle about the resulting creations – vivid enough to be easily spotted from afar, this clothing was often adorned with such shapes as peace signs, hearts, bullseyes and other groovy shapes. One dye-making company in particular, Rit-Dye, offered not only a whole pallet of colors from which to work, but each box contained handy instructions for creating your own tie-dyed clothing. With a few rubber bands, some t-shirts and a couple of boxes of dye, the possibilities were virtually endless.

This fashion trend, seen across the country, was especially evident in places like San Francisco, home base for the iconic Grateful Dead, where seas of tie-dyed fans accompanied the band wherever they traveled. And, with the Dead touring consistently through the 90s, this fashion statement was passed to new generations of followers, who have helped to keep tie-dye clothing popular into the present day.

Fans of today’s jam band culture, for example, are just as proud to wear these homemade works of art as their 60s predecessors. Because, let’s face it – vibrant colors and psychedelic music have always, and will always, go together.

Did you closet include a few tie-dye shirts back in the day? Did you color them yourself? We’d love to hear all of your memories of tie-dye clothing in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to this colorful style that has yet to fade.

One Response to “Tie-Dye”

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  1. Gina says:

    I had quite a few tie-dye t-shirts in the 1980’s. I bought them that way; I didn’t make them, though I did string some of my own love beads. I was more into the 60’s during the 1980’s than I was into the 80’s. Mom said the tie-dye shirts didn’t do anything for me.

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