Tie-dye in America is often associated with childhood, summertime, and summer camps or hippie culture from the 1960s, but tie-dye actually dates back to 5th-century China. The earliest surviving examples of pre-Columbian tie-dye originated in Peru dating between 500 and 810 AD. These early examples include small circles and lines in the design primarily using bright colors for the dye like red, yellow, blue, and green.
Shibori began in Japan in the 8th century A.D. and requires elaborate and labor-intensive “resist” techniques which entailed stitching patterns into the fabric before tightly binding the stitching before dyeing which would result in beautiful and intricate patterns and designs primarily found commonly on kimonos.
In early-century West Africa, indigo tie-dye was created in the world-famous indigo dye pits in and around Kano, Nigeria. Indigo tie-dye heavily influenced the patterns and techniques that are now widely known. Tie-dye as we know it was invented in the mid-1960s, and it is accomplished by folding, twisting, or pleating a garment and binding it with rubber bands followed by the application of the dye of your choice. To mimic ancient techniques, intricate knotting is added to create a more intricate pattern.
Tie-Dye Throughout Fashion History
While we all know and love tie-dye because of the nostalgia tied to its connection to both summer camp and 70s fashion alike, it's a pattern that has up and through several rungs of fashion throughout the years and as a result, has transformed from the fabric of choice for children and maximalists alike to the surprising favorite of preppy minimalists in coastal cities across the U.S.
Tie-dye came to the United States in the early 20th century, when women used this form of resistance dying to upcycle old clothes and mimic French fabrics. Its kaleidoscopic patterns were embraced by the counterculture of the 70’s as a way to rebel against corporate America through dressed-down, psychedelic-inspired fashion. Performers wore tie-dye at Woodstock, where hundreds of tie-dye shirts were sold to revelrous festival-goers. Tie-dye was an inexpensive way for young people to express their individuality and their point of view, and musicians like Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia joined the movement to cement tie-dye as a defining fashion trend of the hippie movement.
This beacon of the resistance became synonymous with summer camp and childhood after it went mainstream in the 1980s. By then, absolutely everyone was wearing tie-dye shirts, and luxury fashion houses began incorporating the style onto their runways. Teenagers like Drew Barrymore rocked the look in the 80’s, and tie-dye was even featured prominently on men’s fashion in the 1995 film Clueless. Michael Kors’ Celine heavily featured tie-dye in its Spring/Summer 2001 runway show, ushering tie-dye into a new millennium.
Although tie-dye remained ubiquitous through the decades, it returned to its countercultural roots when Dead & Company launched onto the music scene in 2015. While Grateful Dead fans embraced tie-dye as a symbol of hope once more, the vintage look also rose in popularity amongst nature-loving fashionistas as Birkenstocks, Tevas, and ankle bracelets heralded a new era of unpretentious cool.
From Haute Couture collections like those of Dior and Givenchy to Taylor Swift’s headlining festival look at Wango Tango 2019, tie-dye has proved itself to have high fashion’s mark of approval. Tom Ford, Proenza Schouler, Versace, Prabal Gurung, Dries van Noten, and Prada all featured tie-dye in their 2019 runway shows, and minimalistic fashion houses like Stella McCartney have easily won the hearts of tie-dye customers too.
Today, tie-dye sweats have become the hottest youth trend, with TikTok influencers like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae making tie-dye the It style of pandemic comfort clothing. Even Taylor Swift sold a tie-dye crewneck to promote her Grammy Award-winning album “Folklore.” Whether it’s a T-shirt, a bikini, or a sweatsuit, tie-dye has once again found its way into the center of youth trends, proving that laid-back fashion will never go out of style.
Below are our top 9 picks for tie-dye shirts for beginners.
From oversized scarves to vintage band T-shirts, Thrilling has vintage and secondhand tie-dye treasures for any style. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on our online marketplace, don’t worry — we’ve still got you covered. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work with our partner stores (and our offline inventory) to find exactly what you need.
This scarf is a chameleon that can be tied 6 ways. With its muted pink and blue colors, it is subtle while packing style and adjusting to every outfit.
This dress is perfect for long walks on the beach, hot summer nights, and vacations you wish could last forever. Wear it with a pair of platform sandals, or go barefoot and reminisce on tie-dye summers past.
Play it cool with an unconventional layering piece that can be worn easily with both a business suit and a jumpsuit.
This brown tie-dye bralette might be the best on the list. Dress it up to create a more elevated look or dress it down into cool summertime loungewear. It’s also available in cooler tones here.
Pair with this shirt dress with breezy linen pants and Birkenstocks to make the ultimate no-effort beach look for summer.
Look no further than this blue and gray tie-dyed camisole that can be dressed down with a loose pair of pants or dressed up with a form-fitting skirt, Kim Kardashian-style.
Work from home in these comfy Champion sweat shorts, but beware — they’re so on-trend, your little sister might try to steal them.
This button-down is the perfect non-obvious tie-dye top that can be paired with anything from a tennis skirt to slouchy denim for an effortlessly cool look.
Nothing says “cool” quite like a vintage band T-shirt—and nothing screams “tie-dye” like the Grateful Dead. Pair this ultimate rock n’ roll find with bike shorts and a claw clip for a trip to the grocery store, or wear it tucked into a black skirt with Doc Martins for a concert-ready vibe.
Get Funky with Thrilling
It’s always a good time for tie-dye. Thrilling has a massive collection of high-quality vintage tie-dye pieces to choose from, so you can find clothes and accessories that match your unique style. Thrilling supports independent, local businesses. We believe supporting small businesses is vital because they are the cultural and economic backbone of our neighborhoods. Best of all, 95 percent of Thrilling’s partner boutiques are women- and/or BIPOC-owned.
Vintage shopping is sustainable shopping. When you shop Thrilling, you’re supporting small businesses while choosing the most environmentally-friendly way to shop. Vintage shopping reduces waste, and we ship directly from our partner boutiques to cut down our carbon footprint.
What are you waiting for? Find tie-dye that speaks to you on Thrilling.