Athleisure Wear

Why Tie-Dye Became the Quarantine Uniform of Choice for Many At-Home Workers

Emily Laurence

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Photos: Freepeople (L); Madewell (R); Art: W+G Creative

As a trend, tie-dye for summer is a bit like floral for spring—in other words, not exactly groundbreaking. In line with varsity-inspired track pants or neons, the athleisure staple continues to wax and wane in popularity. This year, however, there’s absolutely no denying that tie-dye has reached a fever pitch, as soft clothes like bike shorts and tees win out over hard clothes like jeans and jackets. (Though, it’s worth noting: During quarantine, you can tie dye nearly anything.)

According to analytics platform Trendalytics, Google searches for tie-dye are up 135 percent from last year. Athleta and ASTR The Label have all come out with tie-dye collections this spring. And that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the soars in sales from ASOS, Target, Free People, and Urban Outfitters, which are the top retailers where people are searching for dye-dipped gems, according to Trendalytics. Ryan Porter is even selling tie-dye masks, fully placing the trend well within the new COVID-19 reality we’re living in. As for why, keep reading below.

Tie-dye was primed for a comeback

The technique of twisting and tying textiles ahead of dipping them into dye dates back centuries, reports Vox, with different techniques having been practiced by cultures all over the world in China, India, Peru, and Egypt. In recent years, Japan’s Shibori dye techniques have become increasingly popular in the U.S., appearing on pillows and blankets for the home, breezy dresses, and yes, athleisure.

Despite a rich history from around the globe, the modern American rendition of the colorful swirling print was made iconic in the late 1960s. It always seems to surface up images of Woodstock-era peace and love, from a period in time when the world was primed and ready for change. Fast forward a few decades, and that sentiment continues to resonate with wearers and fashion houses alike. Last year fashion glossies like Harper’s Bazaar called the prominent trend as one to watch, due to the surge of twisted textiles seen on the previous season’s runways from Proenza Schouler to Prabal Gurung. But, in the wellness world, the trend picked up in earnest heading into 2020.

What resulted couldn’t have been more timely. Beyond essential workers, many people found themselves at home 24/7, self-quarantining to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With no need to put on anything beyond a pajama top that passed for real clothing, the trend sky rocketed. Because if banana bread was a way to keep yourself busy in the kitchen, tie-dye became equivalent for your leggings drawer.

“Even before the pandemic, there was a rising interest for a DIY aesthetic, driven by sustainability and slow living,” says Kristin Breakell, a content strategist at Trendalytics. “Gen Z in particular is especially more mindful than previous generations about how wasteful the fashion industry is and more conscious of sustainability in general.” To this point, she says Google searches for tie-dye kits are up almost 400 percent from last year.

Trendalytics content marketing manager Sarah Barnes points to another major reason why tie-dye is trending right now: There are options at many price points. “You can DIY using clothes that you already own or you can buy a luxe sweat-set from a designer,” she says. She also points out that it’s easy to find wearable piece at places like Target and Walmart, some of the few retailers that have remained open during the pandemic since they sell actual essential items. Given the economic conditions that have resulted from the global pandemic, all of this set the stage perfectly for sitting around at home eating banana bread in tie dye sweats.

Tie-dye is an inherent mood booster

“My take on the popularity of tie-dye right now is that it’s a natural mood booster,” says Annie Pariseau, who makes her own tie-dye designs and has also designed hoodies for Lululemon. “I think tie-dye was already floating around in the ether, but with the lockdown, brands saw an opportunity to push their sweats out there and many of them happened to be tie dyed. It definitely lightens the mood, so mix comfy sweats with tie-dye when everyone’s feeling a lot of anxiety and…voila.”

The joy factor is no doubt at play here. Our wardrobes can be a source of inspiration and optimism if we allow them to. Bright, vibrant colors at play in your closet have been shown to make wearers happier, and it’s hard to think of any piece of clothing better described as “bright or vibrant” than the retro print. “Tie-dye is also very nostalgic for childhood and a lot of people are home with their parents again, so I think those feelings are especially strong for a lot of people right now,” says Breakell.

In terms of what’s next for the trend, Barnes says data is predicting it to stay strong through the summer. “What we’re seeing is that tie dye will remain popular, it’s just the type of items people are interested in will change,” she says. “Instead of tie-dye sweatshirts, there will be more tees, shorts, and swimsuits,” she says, emphasizing that swim is perhaps the next big category for the print. Despite not knowing what the rest of the summer will look like with COVID-19 still playing such a role in our day-to-day lives, there’s something comforting about knowing the happy-go-lucky print is just as at home on Zoom as it is appreciated six feet apart.

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