Controversial Opinion: Tie-Dye Is Chic

My desire for tie-dye clothes hit me like a spring cold: abruptly and devoid of any identifiable source. I went to bed one night perfectly fine, and the next morning I woke up a tie-dye fiend. My brain had decided, seemingly of its own volition, that this style signature of sleepaway camp attendees and 70s hippies was just the thing my warm-weather outfits needed. Curious!

Two spring outfit ideas for the price of one Instagram !

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Compelled to do a bit of research, I learned that the actual method of tie-dying originated in prehistoric times and subsequently spread all over the world in various forms (traditional West African textilespre-Columbian Peruvian fabrics, Japanese shiborito name a few). The term “tie-dye” wasn’t invented until the mid-1960s in the U.S when tie-dye became the unofficial uniform of artists like Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and John Sebastian (who even tie-dyed his own underwear).

The trend lasted well beyond the Summer of Love, though, as evidenced by I-D‘s excellent history of tie-dyeChelsea Clinton wore it on numerous occasions during her high-profile teenage years in the 90s. Rayanne Graff wore it on My So Called Life. Destiny’s Child wore it to the CFDA awards circa 2000. Kanye West wore it in the music video for “Bound 2.” More importantly though, beyond these numerous high-profile culture touch points, tie-dye has cemented its place as a timeless and affordable craft from camps to suburban backyards to urban bathtubs. Sure, it’s appeared in notable high-fashion scenarios (most recently this season in Michael Kors and Chanel’s respective Spring/Summer 2018 collections), but the most classic iteration of tie-dye is also the simplest: DIY.

Given this indelible (pun intended) association, I was a bit flummoxed over how to style it. I wanted to wear tie-dye in a way that looked elevated (i.e. not too sleepaway campy) and yet still retain its innate sense of fun, so I challenged myself to create three outfits that accomplished exactly that. Behold them below, and let me know what you think.

Outfit #1: For When You Want to Wear Tie-Dye on an Errand

I realize not every office environment is tie-dye-friendly, but for those that are, consider this: a tie-dye trench layered over a tie-dye jersey midi dress (this one is $36, which is especially neat) layered over a tie-dye T-shirt, complemented by a light sprinkling of accessories that, despite erring on the understated side, still decidedly mean business. The result is an outfit that says you know how to shop for granola bars and detergent but you also know how to have a good time, you know?

Outfit #2: For When You Want to Wear Tie-Dye to a Party

Some of life’s best things come in wedge form, including key-lime pie, MR by Man Repeller shoes, orange slices and your midriff when you happen to be wearing high-waist shorts and a dress buttoned just below the nipples. If said high-waist shorts and dress buttoned just below the nipples happen to be rendered in green tie-dye, the resulting wedge of midriff on display is ready to party whether you’ve imbibed a margarita or not.

Outfit #3: For When You Want to Wear Tie-Dye to Lounge Around

I may very well have bastardized the traditional combination of a white T-shirt, jeans and a sweatshirt by insisting the latter two items be showcased in psychedelic pastel, but I don’t care. I think I actually managed to concoct an outfit that is both “hippie” and “preppy” simultaneously, and if you’re not immediately overcome with the desire to get horizontal on a couch and watch Gilmore Girls in it, I quit!

JK, I don’t quit, but I might if you don’t meet me down in the comments immediately and tell me whether you hate or love tie-dye.

Photos by Edith Young (big Grateful Dead fan). Modeled by Juliet Johnstone

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  • Yess!! Been seeing lots of tie-dye lately and loving it. The rich green tone dress is really cool. Doesn’t look too obviously tie-dyed.

  • ByeBeckz

    I just dug out this ~8 year old denim tie-dye Juicy Couture skirt I was obsessed with in college but always embarrassed by the fact that it was Juicy but yolo thank you I’m bringing it back with no shame and all the excitement.

  • Caroline

    I feel this exact same feel. Glad to know I am not on alone for the NEED to tie-dye!!!

  • eva

    i am make completely bananas here but… i wear tie dye as a neutral

    • Harling Ross

      that’s what i said in the office yesterday and ppl shut me down!!!! thank you i feel vindicated

      • eva


  • Aya

    So great to see that tie dye is getting the love it deserves! Do you know about the queen of sophisticated tie-dye Raquel Allegra ( Everything she makes is a tie-dye dream come true.

    • snakehissken

      Raquel Allegra is featured more than once in the options at the bottom!

  • The Stella jean green is fire!!!

    • My mom made me a dress for homecoming sophomore year and we tie-dyed it. I may have to bring the dress back this summer if I can still fit in it!

  • sarah

    love tie-dye. I found a tie-dyed tshirt dress at goodwill three months ago – just waiting very impatiently so I can wear it all summer.

  • Eliza

    YESSSSSSS yes yes yes yes yes THANK YOU!!

    • Harling Ross

      🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Here for it! At my office we recently had a day where we filled buckets with indigo dye and made a whole wallpaper collection out of the scans of the fabric (I also brought some clothes/sheets from home cuz why not) and it was so much fun!!

  • Julie Kocsis

    Joe *Cocker

    • Harling Ross

      thank you

  • Erica

    i want the red sweater, but all i can see now is when Rachel was pregnant and they thought it was Tag. But it was Ross in the red sweater. but then Phoebe wore the same one (???) the next episode

    i still want it tho

  • Eva Edgren

    Cheers to this. Dating a dead head gives a whole new perspective on tie dye. I prefer an oversized tee and no pants.

  • EmilyL27

    I like to “tie dye” things with bleach. Feel it’s a little less hippy than all the colors. Doing it with something black is pretty low key ish I think. But also great to cut the sleeves/sides a bunch off a bright colored t and bleach that up for a look that says you’rw definitely aren’t on your way to anything responsible…

  • Beth

    We haven’t done it in a few years, but my friends and I used to have tie dying parties every summer. Obviously we started out with shirts and tanks and then it morphed into underwear, sheets, curtains, and tote bags. Sometimes we would try to do an ombré dip dye dress. Tie dye will never go out of style…the possibilities are endless… especially DIY…

  • Payel Paul

    Excuse me, but I think Lizzie McGuire needs to be mentioned among the fashion icons who have given tie-dye a whirl.

  • Monday Murphy

    Chelsea Clinton in tie dye is OG Man Repeller and I’m here for it

  • katfish

    As a fiber artist in my 50’s, creative dye techniques are a clothing go-to. Wearing them unironically is always an interesting challenge.
    Right now, I am ombreing scoop tees and plain drapey skirts. Dark at the bottom. I do ice dyeing, where the patterns are tight and random. And my thing is only doing one color over a previous pastel shade. Indigo over pale sky blue, example.
    And, yes, thinking prep is the way I go. A very classic item, tie dyed, along with other classic pieces used as a foil. I tie dyed a white sweater cropped in turquoise and acid green. It made a lively statement against pale spring yellow.
    If others choose to dye, get yourself professional colors. There are excellent websites that will teach you how to do tie dye that is a step above art camp.

  • Totally bought red tie dye bell bottoms a few months ago in California (OF COURSE) and have been wearing them nonstop. I pair them with a white cotton tee knotted at the waist and leather sandals.

    • Kristi Ellis

      That outfit sounds perfect. Desperately googling “red tie dye bell bottoms”

  • Alexandra

    I’ve been looking for very specific tie-dye for a while: a blue “cloud” style on a long sleeve tee. Any leads? Meanwhile I have several pairs of tie dye socks and they make me so happy lol.

  • What about tie-dye for work?