01 September 2020

There's no excuse not to tie-dye

Mordechai ‘Mister Mort’ Rubenstein is a wizard of tie-dye, an all seeing eye. His recent book ‘Dead Style’ captures people who encapsulate both the influence of Grateful Dead’s tie-dyed colourful counter culture and the razor sharp ensembles of street style. It is undeniable that tie-dye has transformed itself, shapeshifting from a signifier of the hippydippy underground to being used as commonly as a pinstripe or polkadot, but the truth is that the origins of tie-dye are thousands of years old. Ancient Mayans used it as they wove decorative garments. Across India and Asia it was used. There are also many different techniques, from using ice and powdered dye to factory dying, which gives a uniform effect to each piece produced. It’s unique, versatile and imperfect, but those are the qualities that make it, particularly for Mister Mort, so desirable.

Did you know tie dye is so ancient?
Oh yea, it’s so old. The ancient Mayans did it. There’s so many techniques too. When I started getting into buying second hand tie dye I realised a few things. I like when it’s obviously home made, I love the beauty in the imperfection, however the method. I’ve also started to see celebrities wearing tie dye sweat pants or whatever that are factory dyed. I actually think there’s something cool about that too, two years ago I’d never have admitted that. I love a classic spiral in classic colours. I love scenic stuff. But really I love the colours.

How many tie dye pieces do you own?
Oh a lot. Maybe 60 T-shirts and then socks, and shirts and underwear. And then I have some tie dye hats too. My wife got me last year, a patchwork tie-dye. That someone must have cut up tie-dye t-shirts, and turned that into a t-shirt, that’s one of my favourite. I have another one that’s a sunset and when you open up the arms, you see all the colours.

Do you remember the first piece you bought?
I think it was a Thrasher tie-dye T, I bought a Grateful Dead tie-dye.. a brand new ‘Liquid Blue’.

What’s the connection with Grateful Dead and tie-dye, why is it so important?
Grateful Dead were all about counter culture. I want to think it was something to do with psychedelics and lights, the ‘Dead were all about light shows. Also their lyrics are all about finding joy and I think people need that now.

How do you feel about it being appropriated fashion?
I like it because it’s happy. I like clothes and patterns that are happy to look at. A true hippy might think ‘wow this is weird,’ but everything comes around. Why shouldn’t it be in a line sheet like a polka dot or a stripe.

Can anyone tie-dye?
There’s no excuse not to tie-dye. Everyone has a sink. Everyone can get a beetroot or a radish or a strawberry. I love seeing kids getting into it now. With it being so popular, everyone is trying it right now. I want tie-dye to always be around. And it’s cool to see older tie-dyers being like ‘oh it’s coming back?’ And sharing their experiences and techniques. I don’t think it’s going anywhere for a while.