In 2003, I signed up for sorority rush at the University of Florida not knowing what to expect. I knew no one – not a single soul – who had ever been through this experience, and I quickly realized that inexperience showed. Surrounded by hundreds of young women donning floral sundresses, I showed up for Round One in my tie-dye tee, Birkenstocks, and shorts. Actually, jorts. It was my uniform, comfortable garb that spoke to me as an individual, which I’m pretty sure was how they “instructed” us to dress.
It was also a huge embarrassment.
Oh em gee, these girls are NOTHING like me! In an era before social media, we relied on our eyes to tell us these things. As a girl from thousands of miles away whose last concert was Chicago (the band), I knew I might be different, but my authenticity helped me curate a diverse cast of interesting friends in the past. This was different, though; hundreds of girls were divvied up by appearance, Greek letters affixed to their brands. I was a Jew from New Jersey in a tie-dye shirt. Within two weeks of starting college, my personality fell second to my brand.
The tie-dye shirt disappeared – disintegrated, never to be spoken of again – replaced by black Hard Tail yoga pants and whatever I felt would be acceptable in the place I was placed. Whatever would allow me to blend in. After all, that was college for a young insecure girl: a place to dabble in my thoughts without stepping too far outside the lines.
Blending in became the norm, as I trudged through law school and my early years as a lawyer. Professors and mentors pushed black skirt suits for all interviews, meetings, and court appearances. It was as if they were saying, “make your body disappear,” let it evaporate from the equation until you are nothing but an arguing, credentialed head, demanding to be heard. Looking older and wiser, you command respect by offering nothing to discuss, because that onus was on us (and arguably, still is).
When my first daughter arrived, I sought refuge in the blandness of my wardrobe. Weighed down by the literal and figurative burden of new motherhood, there was no time to think. For someone who always loved to shop, hiding my body became an anxiety-inducing venture as I draped it under layers of black cardigans and stretchy pants. I was overweight and sick.
For a while, thought I was settling into a new identity for the rest of my life: a working mother who clawed to stay ahead in the office and fade behind her children at home.
Which is not to say my children didn’t always look fabulous. The funny thing is, I think it’s a mother’s knee-jerk reaction to put all of our energy into dressing our children. We live vicariously through them and joke about it. Each pop of color, tie-dye, rainbows, leopard, and glitter on their scurrying little booties are like little blasts of fun – the sunshine we seek. We put that all into them, commemorating their milestones, seeking their affection, curating their wardrobe. We are so eager to give to them, we tend to give it all away.
But then, tie-dye made its grand return to fashion. What began as a campy pre-pandemic trend resulted in a major comeback during our year at home. Consumers were not just accepting tie-dye, they were embracing it, as if the colors would seep through by osmosis to heal our fearful and grieving hearts.
We called for something – anything – to bring us joy. Tie-dye answered the call.
With no more commute and endless time with my kids, I wasted no time jumping back in: sweatshirts, dresses, bodysuits, t-shirts, bike shorts, masks, hats. High-profile drops and Target deals. It was like someone had opened a gate (the gate being my wallet). But kidding aside, it felt natural. Joyful. And every time I looked in the mirror, I saw someone staring back who looked a lot more like me.
Tie-dye isn’t just a vibe. It’s imprecise, unpredictable, go with the flow. It’s the bleeding together of many things, a dual perception of harmony and chaos. It’s a lifestyle you choose to embrace, or aspire to live, through wearing it. There is a lack of control but willingness to go wherever it goes.
I can’t always live like that – my favorite hat says “Mostly Chill” for this reason – but I try. We are all just trying our best. And I think, when we wear it, we accept what we can’t control but do our best to enjoy the ride.
Since welcoming tie-dye back into my wardrobe, I’ve allowed other color to inch back in, as well. Pinks, florals, neons, oh my. I am living a colorful life, and I am willing to be seen doing it. Perhaps the best part of all is being seen.
Do you agree that tie-dye isn’t a trend but a lifestyle? Comment below and send me your finest: email@example.com.
The little things
This week, I’m taking you on an annotated tie-dye love story through my closet. This is certainly not the full collection but some of my favorites. And if you thought you’d need sunnies to bear witness, think again. Some of the best pieces are subtle and soft but color your heart just as much.
Please note: most of my pieces are from limited collections, so I’ve linked to the main sites so you can shop what’s available now.
Maxi skirt, Tyde Apparel.
Ankle socks, custom by @TOPOriginals_ (shop via Instagram).
Button down, Ralph Lauren.
Hoodie, Camp High.