By Lizzy Greenwood.
Fashion is innately political, whether you subscribe to the industry or not. It can make an overtly political statement (think of the women in Congress wearing white to Trump’s State of the Union address or the female Oscars attendees wearing black in solidarity post #MeToo) or it may simply imbue your personal politics. Whether you’re up to date with high-street trends, a staunch charity shop scourer, or indeed completely unmoved by fashion, clothes make a statement about your personal beliefs whether you’re cognisant of them of not.
A huge trend we’ve seen on the catwalks for the upcoming long hot summer is the redux of tie-dye; it’s a fun, acidic look that first catapulted into popularity in the 1960s and 70s. It is tantamount to flower power, dancing Woodstock hippies and drug culture. While the 70s brought to the table the unisex flare trouser, androgyny and gender fluidity, tropes that are coming to the fore in recent years, Prada, Stella McCartney and R13 have all endorsed the tie-dye trend. So what’s different now? With grown-up silhouettes, the look has evolved into flowing dresses, blazers, jumpsuits and skirts, moving away from the repurposed t-shirts that we are accustomed to. The colour schemes too have graduated from primary colours to softer pastels and beiges making it more wearable from surfboard to boardroom.
Fashion is now making its overdue move towards sustainability which sees the re-imagination of tie-dye using organic batik processes and fabric treatments giving each designer piece its artisanal uniqueness, promoting hand-made work and individuality. (The irony of course being that fast fashion mass-produces on a colossal scale which diametrically opposes the original ethos of the trend. Urban Outfitters however does promote upcycling with its reworked section and be sure to look around vintage shops and markets to find original tie-dye material.)
Synonymous with the swinging sixties, you might be surprised to know that the process of tie-dye (literally tying clothes and dying them) actually goes back millennia. It was seen previously in various guises in China, India and Peru as a method of organically dying clothes. Despite its apex in the 60s and 70s, tie-dye first appeared in the States as early as the 1930s as a by-product of the Great Depression in 1929. It was advertised as an easy, low-cost way of repurposing old sacks and fabrics into something new and colourful to decorate with in and around the home.
Three decades later the hippies claimed it for themselves and it became the helical, hallucinogenic symbol of peace and love that we associate it with today. Primarily, it was a cheap way of refashioning old garments, but what made it particularly appealing to the zeitgeist of this generation was its unencumbered and unabashed individuality. No two
t-shirts could be the same.
So anyway, what does this all mean? This summer, we are seeing a resurgence of tie-dye in a big way. There is undoubtedly political potency as to why we’re seeing a reprisal of counterculture and anti-establishment ideology in 2019. Certainly, political and social parallels can be drawn between the two eras; the 60s/70s saw hard-line conservatism spread across the United States. Lyndon Johnson’s administration was plagued with riots and race wars in predominantly black neighbourhoods, his approval ratings were below 50% and after facing public backlash blamed the press for distorting facts… sound terrifyingly familiar? Nixon was entangled in violent anti-war protests concerning the suspension of bombing in Vietnam, agreed with abortion only in some ‘necessary’ circumstances and was notably ‘not for women’ in an interview with George HW Bush… albeit recognising some merits, continuing to describe two "attractive women, both of them Republicans". Flash forward 50 years and this rhetoric is echoed hauntingly by Trump’s administration withdrawing from nuclear treaties, degrading women’s reproductive rights and sexual health funding and his notorious relationships with women that really needs no further explanation.
The #MeToo movement embodied sombre, muted colours, so tie-dye brings back to life women’s vibrancy, demanding a better future, not unlike the voices of hippies back in the 60s. The political climate is shifting, women are no longer staying quiet, in fact we’re louder than ever. Tie-dye fits rather nicely in this rebellion. The rebellion against fast-fashion, against homogeny and against the denigration of female rights.
Artwork by Sasha Green