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Tie-dye is making a major comeback right now — here's why

The colorful print is making a splash.
/ Source: TODAY

Whether you think tie-dye is totally rad or totally not your style, the psychedelic print from the '60s is back in a major way. It's become a hot quarantine fashion trend that doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Tie-dye loungewear sets, in particular, are having a moment. Everyone from celebrities and YouTubers to at-home crafters are giving the colorful, cozy look their seal of approval. So, why is tie-dye suddenly trending? And how has the print evolved over time? TODAY Style spoke to fashion experts and tie-dye lovers alike find out.

Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - October 25, 2019
Tie-dye sweatsuits in all colors are suddenly trending, as seen here on singer Halsey. Getty Images

Why social distancing has inspired us to wear tie-dye

Over the past several weeks, people have had a lot of extra time on their hands while social distancing and staying home to slow the spread of coronavirus. Some have been tackling reading lists, others have honed their cooking skills and many others are trying their hand at craft projects, including tie-dyeing.

"There's been a resurgence in craftsmanship and handmade goods over the last several years, popularizing '70s hobbies (macrame, weaving, tie-dyeing), but in a modern way," Stitch Fix color expert Ryen Anderson said. "As our country continues to practice social distancing, it makes sense to me that people would connect with these handmade objects for comfort, to feel connected to humans and to nature."

Pinterest's experience researcher and in-house stylist, Larkin Brown, says searches for "tie-dye at home" are up 462% in the past few weeks on the site. "Since this is not the time to run out and shop, tie-dye is the style trend you can adapt into a DIY activity right at home," Brown said.

Searches for "how to crumple tie-dye," a popular technique, are up 376% on Pinterest. "While this process is relatively simple, it takes multiple steps and washes; just the kind of time extender we’re all looking for these days," Brown said.

Activities that spark joy are more important than ever during these stressful times, and the art of tie-dyeing can help get your creative juices flowing. "Aside from being comfortable and looking good, tie-dye is fun and brings the kid out in us. I’ve had customers tell me my products make them feel happier," Dalton England, CEO of The Tie Dye Company, said.

And if you're looking for a distraction right about now, activities like puzzles and crafts can help.

"The tie-dye process is therapeutic for me. I find it very soothing and it gives me the perfect outlet to create unique art while totally zoning out. Life can get really loud sometimes and it’s so important to me to be able to have that escape and that time to myself," said Jackie Pepper Green, who runs a tie-dye company based in Philadelphia called Dye it Pepper. In addition to selling tie-dyed products, Pepper Green offers a "sacs by Jac" service to customers where she dyes a bag full of white items for a flat price and at-home tie-dye kits with 10% of the proceeds going to No Kid Hungry.

Tie-dye has been making a comeback for a while

Tie-dye sweatpants and sweatshirts might be the quarantine look du jour, but the pattern itself has been working its way back into fashion for several years. The Japanese art of Shibori, a precursor to modern tie-dye, surged in popularity a few years ago and tie-dye showed up on both the 2019 and 2020 spring runways. The latest season of "Project Runway" even dedicated an entire episode to the groovy print earlier this year.

"There has been a tie-dye trend for quite a while now. I almost think of it like leopard print — a new neutral that is actually not so neutral. In some ways it serves to dress up or make otherwise boring clothing — like sweatpants and T-shirts — more exciting and interesting," Lucy Collins Payne, assistant professor of philosophy at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told TODAY Style.

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - March 30, 2019
Gigi Hadid approves of the tie-dye trend.Gotham / GC Images

Today's tie-dye admittedly looks a lot different than the flashy print that made a major mark in the 1960s.

"Trends in fashion are cyclical, but the trend has definitely modernized to fit the current culture. Tie-dye that is trending today is simpler and more minimal than versions of the pattern we saw in the late '60s and early '70s, which packed more color into one garment than we typically do today. In contrast, modern tie-dye features cotton candy-hued pastel and white color schemes with subtle or geometric patterns," Anderson said.

Tie-dye has a colorful history

Matching tie-dye sweatsuits may be a hot new trend, but the pattern actually dates back hundreds of years.

"Tie-dye really is a universal method of decorating textiles, practiced the world over for more than 600 years. We see versions of it in almost every culture, ranging from Africa to Asia to the Americas," Collins Payne said.

In the United States, immigrants from countries like India, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines introduced tie-dye techniques to their new country over time. "Dyeing techniques also have deep roots in Africa, and many immigrants from a variety of African countries brought their skills to the U.S., even as far back at the late 1700s and 1800s," Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said.

Tie-dye surged in popularity in the U.S. when the hippie movement adopted the colorful look.

"In the United States, tie-dye was definitely a DIY/countercultural statement during that era. This was around the time of the introduction and widespread availability of ready-to-wear and mass-produced fashion. Certainly the hippie movement was responding to the homogenized clothing styles of the era in the effort to embrace a certain sort of freedom and individuality," Collins Payne said.

Tie-dye, 1970
Tie-dye was a major trend in the 1960s.Getty Images stock

Since then, tie-dye has been in and out of fashion, often as part of larger hippie fashion revivals. "The early '90s also saw a resurgence of interest in tie-dye and re-dye as the interest for natural and organic dyes over synthetic came to the forefront and yielded quite beautiful results," Eiseman said.

"Historically, tie-dye has appealed to people with more time than money, which describes a lot of us right now," said Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, fashion historian and author of "Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History,"

Tie-dye is an easy trend to try

Tie-dye is suddenly all over Instagram feeds and YouTube channels, and it could because it's such an accessible trend, according to Eiseman.

"It’s easy to do and involves a few rubber bands or string tied to certain portions of the garment and then dyeing it on the stove top or in the washing machine. It's simple and not very labor-intensive," she said.

YouTuber Alexandra Thomas, who runs the channel Learning to be Fearless, recently tried her hand at the craft when she had a hard time finding a plus-size tie-dye loungewear set. "It’s funny because I wasn’t really into tie-dye much before now! I’ve noticed it’s been super trendy over the last few months, and I love following trends ... so I thought why not make my own?" she said.

After ordering a white sweatsuit and a tie-dye kit, Thomas got to work and was thrilled with the end result.

"There are a lot of methods for tie-dyeing depending how you want it to come out. I did the swirl method where you twist the fabric in a swirl motion from the center to create a cinnamon bun-like shape," she said.

After separating the fabric with rubber bands, she applied the tie-dye mixture to each section of the sweatshirt, stored it in a plastic bag and let it set for about an hour before throwing it in the washing machine with soap and hot water, then drying. "You can leave the product on longer if you want the colors to be more vibrant, I left mine on less for a more pastel, soft look" she said.

Part of the fun of tie-dyeing is the fact that no two prints look entirely alike. And if you mess up, you can still create something stunning.

"Tie-dye is all about trial and error and having no expectations. I find that my favorite designs are the 'mistake' pieces that I accidentally spilled something on or had a random outcome with," England said.

Comfy printed sweatsuits are exploding in popularity, but Pepper Green said tie-dye can also dress up any number of items. "Don’t limit yourself to tees and sweats. Some of my most favorite pieces I’ve made have been chunky knit sweaters, velvet pillows and bedding," she said.

Mrs Keepa - Runway  - FFWD October Edition 2019
Tie-dye always seems to come back into style (seen here on the runway in October 2019).Stuart C. Wilson / Getty Images

Will the tie-dye trend last?

As soon as we all get back to normal life, will the tie-dye trend fade out as quickly as it jumped into all of our lives? That depends on who you ask.

Chrisman-Campbell said that only time will tell. "I think this is a temporary surge, like making sourdough bread or fluffy coffee, but it may be something that people are trying out for the first time and will continue to do occasionally post-quarantine, especially with T-shirt weather ahead of us."

It could also depend on what the economy looks like in the months to come. "If consumers are still being mindful about how and where they spend their money, and what their priorities are, they will continue doing tie-dying or re-dying as it is so inexpensive and really can be fun — you never truly know the exact outcome until is all done," Eiseman said.

"Tie-dye is just one of the many ways we use style to boost our mood, and I'm willing to bet that fall and winter trends will have joy all over them," Anderson added. "People will want to show, through their clothing, the excitement they feel once we’re able to be back out in the world."

Baked by Melissa founder Melissa Ben-Ishay, whose cupcake brand recently released a tie-dye clothing collection, said there will always be an audience for the colorful pattern.

"Tie-dye is colorful, happy and bright. It's a way to inspire little bits of joy during uncertain times," she said. "For me, tie-dye is not a trend. It's classic and it's a lifestyle, and it's not going anywhere!"