Well-behaved clothes rarely make history. Forever a bohemian favorite, tie-dye garments reflect individuality and an artistic temperament. A textile art, hand dipped and designed, no two pieces are the same. From isolated starbursts to ombre clouds to waves of light refracting off the ocean, tie-dye patterns itself on forms found in nature—organic Rorschach tests. Renditions range from an azure robe wrapped like a swath of sky on Marisa Berenson in her modeling heyday to mid-afternoon South East Asian dreams against bales of violent violet caftans stacked on caravans. Indian women congregate in a kaleidoscope of bustling bright cloth, gazing upwards at spectacles of the spirit alongside a solitary woman, tie-dyed target on contorting spine, caressing a chest chakra.
Traditional methods of tie-dye were practiced in India, Japan, and Africa as early as the sixth century. Bandhani, an Indian method, involves tying small pints of thread and dip-dying, resulting in designs featuring small dots. In Shibori, a method that originated in Japan, the dyer wraps fabric around a core of rope or wood and binds it tightly with string or thread. The areas of the fabric that are against the core or under the binding remain un-dyed. Upstate, a small Brooklyn-based label, uses ancient Shibori tactics to dye made-to-order ponchos, scarfs and other separates—all inspired by two young New Yorkers’ desire to escape north, and ideal for layering with minimalist fitted basics.
Classic hippie style includes layers of trippy tie-dye, a metaphor for the free spirited ethos of the psychedelic era.  Late 60’s artists would customize clothing sold on Haight Street and Portobello Road. Exclusive one-of-a-kind tie-dyed velvet and silk chiffon garments made their way into Diana Vreeland‘s Vogue. Today, Kirsten Stewart wears Proenza’s acid green and neon yellow tie dye dress on the red carpet. Rihanna rocks indigo tie-dyed pants. And Elle Fanning puts on Rodarte’s intricately irreverent, red and blue spiraling silk gown at the Punk Met Ball.
Modern designers are translating tie-dye for bohemian and sophisticated women. Laura and Kate Mulleavy give tie-die a subdued, California grunge touch with Fall 2013 silk dresses washed in acid swirled grey dye. Looks for the red (or rad) carpet. Cerebral style. At Acne, a sea green and white spun wrap skirt is paired with a hyper-structured, asylum reminiscent nude jacket for slightly vulnerable, but overwhelming very tough look. Tory Burch sources cobalt blue tie-dyed fabrics from Guinea and turns them all-American chic with prairie-girl silhouettes and Peter Pan collars. Even Versace, the queen of glam and hyper-polished starlets, interweaves radiant, sunset tie-dyed with heeled gladiators for a bold, festival goddess. From a romantic blouse to a tailored shirt, loose tank or sexy mini, there’s a silhouette for every sort of stylish. 
I love (my handmade version of) the Proenza Schouler Tie Dye tee. A long black cotton crewneck, knotted and tied, randomly webbed in rubber bands, then sprayed with bleach and left to dry and unfurl is a one-of-a-kind ode to dye for style choice. I wear it with thai pants this city summer and pair it with a slim suit for cooler days. For the feminine me, Rodarte’s slate grey acid-dyed slip dress – muted, and more grunge in silhouette than the any stereotypical Height Ashbury tie-dye – looks effortlessly sophisticated with an oversized hand-knit sweater. Craft on craft. No longer a subcultural statement; neither garish or overstated— modern tie-dye is lux and subtle. These looks signal the evolution of a style craft- and another generation of free spirits growing from bohemian young women into nomad ladies.

June 2013