Tie-dyeing was especially popular with American youth who opposed the Vietnam War (1954–75), a controversial war in which the United States aided South Vietnam in its fight against a takeover by Communist North Vietnam. During the late 1960s American young people rebelled against the conservative rules of dress and appearance that had influenced their parents' generation, and many began to appreciate a movement that valued arts and crafts, simplicity, and traditional ways of making things. Tie-dye was a natural outgrowth of these values, combining personal creativity and bright designs to create low-cost clothing. Tie-dye was not a new invention; it has roots in Indian bandhani and Japanese shibori, both dyeing techniques that involve binding areas of fabric before dyeing to create color patterns. Indonesia, Nigeria, and Peru also have long traditions of tie-dyeing fabrics, as do many other countries.
To make a fashionable tie-dyed T-shirt, young people would wrap strings around crumpled shirts and dunk them in vats of inexpensive dye. Once dry the dyed T-shirts would display swirling patterns of color that rebellious American youth could be seen wearing with faded jeans and sandals. Popular rock musicians of the time, such as Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970) and John Sebastian (1944–), wore tie-dye on stage, increasing its popularity. The singer Janis Joplin (1943–1970) was said to sleep on tie-dyed satin sheets. Tie-dye was so popular during the 1960s that it has remained a symbol of trends and movements of the time: hippies (people who rejected the moral customs of established society), rock concerts, psychedelic drugs, and antiwar marches. At the same time, those who disliked the style and values of the hippies ridiculed tie-dye as a symbol of drug use, irresponsibility, and mindless rebellion.
During the 1980s, when many of the fashions of the 1960s and 1970s were rejected, tie-dye lost some of its popularity. One group, however, clung to tie-dye as their symbol throughout the 1980s and 1990s: the Deadheads. Deadheads were loyal fans of the rock group the Grateful Dead. Grateful Dead concerts became festivals of tie-dye, and those who brought and sold tie-dye clothing at the events became known as "dyes." After the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995, concerts of other rock groups, such as Phish, became venues for wearing, selling, and exchanging tie-dye clothing.
Tie-dye became a mainstream fashion starting in the 1990s. Unlike the tie-dye of the 1960s, this modern tie-dye was often mass-produced and sold in retail shops at large malls. Some original tiedye designs made on silk or rayon, however, were considered fashionable artwork and sold at high prices in designer boutiques. Despite its popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, the bright, swirling, one-of-kind nature of tie-dye continues to be identified with the nonconformist lifestyle of the hippies of the 1960s.
Anderson, Brian, and Jennifer L. Zebel. "Grateful Clients Prefer Tie-Dye Apparel." Wearables Business (May 2000): 38–43.
Kreider, Katherine. Tie-Dye. Lincolnwood, IL: McGraw-Hill, 1989.
Powe-Temperley, Kitty. 20th Century Fashion: The 1960s, Mods and Hippies. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.