FEATURE

KALEIDOSCOPE EYES
The Countercultural
Legacy of Tie-Dye

August 2019

Tie-dye’s subcultural relevance stretches back decades – its DIY swirls more than just a fashion choice. We explore how tie-dye became a symbol of counterculture, going back to its very beginnings.

It’s 1964 in New York and supermarket dye company, Rit is in a financial spin. As a final attempt at reviving the brand, Don Price (the Don Draper of the dye world) saw an opportunity to re-market the product to the youth of New York. Swapping single-colour powders for squeezable liquid dyes, Rit could cater to the very specific needs of America’s hippies, who wanted to make multi-coloured prints and DIY patterns in the comfort of their own apartment.

Tie-dye soon became the dress-code of New York’s Greenwich Village. Adopted by underground subcultures as a uniform, tie dye was a physical embodiment of their DIY attitude and psychedelic music taste.

Over the next few years, Mr Price commissioned artists to make hundreds of tie-dye T-shirts with Rit’s revolutionary new dye, and in 1969 they were carted off to be sold at Woodstock. The festival later became known as tie dye’s cultural birthplace, with hippy godmother Janis Joplin stepping out on stage in her own tie-dyed T-shirt and flares.

Fast forward 20 years and Britain has a tie-dye revolution of its own. Fondly referred to as the second summer of love, teenagers go mad for acid house. Tie dye makes a comeback on baggy T-shirts and bucket hats, worn by Frankie Knuckles fans in Manchester’s Haçienda. Once again tie dye becomes a uniform for likeminded kids, making waves across the fields and warehouses up and down the country.

Today, tie-dye lives on. Its legacy as a subcultural uniform immortalised through pop culture references over the years. From Woodstock to Wayne’s World; Clueless to Rave Culture, the psychedelic swirls of tie-dye are a symbol of togetherness. A countercultural uniform for troops of revellers in joyful protest.

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