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Ashley Williams AW18 tie dye fashion
Ashley Williams AW18

Trying to understand fashion’s sudden, inescapable tie-dye obsession

Is it nostalgia? Jonah Hill? A return to hippie idealism in the face of the general abject horror of the world?

To our collective surprise, we’ve found ourselves living in an actual dystopian future. We’ve got virtual assistants doing our bidding at home, world leaders inciting violence against the media, a planet that’s on the brink of no return, and state-sanctioned disenfranchisement.

It’s all a bit much, TBH, so we’re actively backtracking wherever possible – finding comfort in astrology memes, the return of Sabrina, and the crackle of vinyl. Our wardrobes are where this panicked nostalgia is manifesting most overtly, though. We’ve clawed back cycling shorts, shell necklaces, and popper pants in recent months. Next up? Tie-dye.

The seeds were sewn a couple of years ago, when Virgil Abloh sent a series of Grateful Dead tees down the runway for SS16, then including colourful dip-dyed skirts in SS17. Tie-dye’s resurgence was cemented in summer 2016 when Kanye wore it in ScHoolboy Q’s video for “THat Part”, and hammered home when he and Kim wore his-and-hers merch at the launch of Ye earlier this year. 

As for the runways – Ashley Williams got in there early with a tie-dye denim two-piece for SS18, before Proenza Schouler featured it as a key AW18 motif – then going one step further and launching an entire Grateful Dead inspired capsule. But they weren’t the only ones – Prada, Calvin Klein, and Marques-Almeida all sent tie-dye down the runway in 2018. Even Matthew Williams of Alyx got involved, as he joined forces with Nike to present a collection which featured acid-washed sportswear.

And don’t expect to get a break from it on the high street either. After Beyoncé was spotted in an MSGM tie-dye dress on a yacht in Italy this summer, there was no chance of it not filtering through.

But why exactly have we gone mad for tie-dye? Let’s discuss…


Oh hi, we’re living in a literal hellscape. Did you notice? Men in suits are trying to stop women from getting abortions (unless that woman is their mistress of course), sex offenders sit in the highest positions of power, and the extreme right wing is rising. One in three GoFundMe campaigns exist to cover medical bills and the poor are getting poorer

Responding to the ever-lengthening shadow of conservatism in America, this September Raf Simons deployed a hefty dose of symbolism in his SS19 collection for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC. His exploration of America’s present identity crisis set youth culture against the political ruling class. Tie-dye – a hieroglyph of hippie idealism which has deep roots in the States – was printed on scuba skirts, slung around the hips. Its cultural significance weighed heavy against images of Jaws, a characterisation of lurking fear and anxiety with mouth open, teeth sharp, ready to tear you limb from limb. The eponymous 1975 film, widely accepted to be a comment on masculinity and corrupt authority post-Watergate, was the perfect canvas for Simons explore the dichotomy of modern Americana.

Prada also utilised the print in a similar fashion, subverting a 60s ladylike aesthetic with black leather and navel-grazing necklines next to split-to-the-hip tie-dye skirts and matching handbags. “On one hand you wish for freedom, for liberation, for fantasy, and on the other you have extreme conservatism,” Miuccia Prada explained. “I wanted to demonstrate the clash between those two opposites.” When we’re full to capacity of inequality, injustice, and flat-out terror, tie-dye can serve as our reminder that there is an alternative.


2018 was the summer of the scumbro. Stringy locks, underdeveloped facial hair, and a room-temperature drink in a plastic cup are now bonafide peripherals of a look instead of, just, signs of a guy who will only text you at 2am when he’s looking to get laid.

The scumbro looks like he doesn’t have a formal employment contract and yet wears £600 trainers and £1000 Prada shirts. Tie-dye, with its weird high-low vibe, then, fits right into the mould. Sure, it looks like it might have come from a vintage kilo sale but it’s actually from Online Ceramics. Scumbro is millionaire Justin Bieber hanging out with his millionaire model girlfriend Hailey Baldwin in a tie-dye hoodie looking like he’s nipping to the corner shop for a hangover Fanta or to pick up and eighth. Scumbro is fellow millionaire Jonah Hill in a Grateful Dead t-shirt carrying a gallon of water looking like he’s slept on his mate’s sofa for a week. And pretty soon, scumbro is going to be every other dude on your Tinder.

Tie-dye has been served up with a side order of scumbro: socks with slides, a tee over a matching hoodie, too-long sleeves, too-wide shoulders. Tie-dye is scumbro and scumbro is tie-dye. And so it is written.


You know when your mate posted a photo of Brighton beach bathed in sun and you were transported back to UK day trips and six week summer holidays? That was Huji. Date stamped with those sweet, sweet orange digital numbers and cast with the glow of a badly looked after film, the Huji app fulfilled everyone’s insatiable desire to relive the past. Nostalgia makes everything, and everyone, look better.

Tie-dye is steeped in memories Clarissa Explains It All marathons, and dunking your dad’s old t-shirts, bound in elastic bands, in a bucket in the back garden. Along with cowrie shells, scrunchies and cycling shorts, it’s an easy access, physical Huji filter. Chuck on a long-sleeved top swirled with blue, yellow and hot pink and suddenly your biggest problems are getting a bad date on Dream Phone or someone picking the shabby lock on your diary. Tie-dye lets you dip into a point in time and bring a little bit of it back with you. It’s a bright, beautiful comfort blanket you can bring out of storage when you need an escape. Inhale it and remember better times. We need this, OK?