Tie-dye is the original boho cliché. Slap all the colors you want on it — there's just nothing fresh about that tell-tale nautilus spiral and how it elevates a knit dress or casual shirt.
But call distinctly indigo blue tie-dye by its ancient and original name, shibori, and it'll change the way you see it. Even better, it'll teach you new ways of using it. This is what our designers at Lands' End did. They learned to do shibori dyeing themselves and turned that inspiration into dresses, tees , shirts, canvas totes, and even bedsheets — for you.
Let's start with a little history. When we say shibori is an ancient art, we mean it. The earliest mentions of the process come from 8th century Japan — where shibori was born. The name comes from the word “shiboru,” which means “to wring, squeeze or press” and describes the process of turning a flat piece of fabric into a three-dimensional form.
Shibori is a form of resist-dyeing. That means exactly what it sounds like — creating sections of fabric that resist dyes because they've been bound (like shibori) or treated with wax or paste (batik and tsutsugaki, for example).
Of course, there is another aspect of shibori that is rooted in tradition (no pun intended) — the color. The main dye used for shibori was indigo, which was readily available from plant species native to Japan and other parts of east Asia.
Fast forward 1300 years to Lands' End's designers, mixing up their indigo dye kits, and folding and binding cotton fabric to see what the shibori process is all about — then designing prints that make it practical and consistent. (Because no matter how much you love the look of authentic shibori, achieving it on the 24-ounce canvas used for our totes would be impossible.)
While all tie-dye is shibori, not all shibori is tie-dye. Classic Western tie-dye patterns are the result of Kanoko shibori, which involves binding cloth with thread (or, more recently, rubber bands). But there are also many other types of shibori. These include Nui shibori, which is stitched; Kumo shibori, which is pleated and bound; and Arashi shibori, which is wrapped around a pole, tied, and scrunched.
The tie-dye that most people in the United States are familiar with is the type that gained popularity during the hippie movement of the 60s and 70s. People love it not only because of how it looks, but how fun it is to tie-dye various items. For example, it’s not uncommon for school art classes to explore tie-dye, where students bring in kids’ T-shirts and have fun seeing where the color will apply itself and in what type of pattern after they apply their rubber bands. In contrast to shibori tie-dye, there’s no set rule for where to place your rubber bands to bind the item. You can use whatever color you want as well, or use a variety of colors on one garment. This is in contrast to shibori tie-dye, which involves the use of solely indigo dye.
With something like tie-dye, there really aren’t any rules as to how to style it, but we have some favorite ways. First, know that tie-dye is typically reserved for casual wear — with the exception of shibori tie-dye. Shibori offers such a unique look with more of a consistent pattern than what we get with traditional tie-dye as we know it. For that reason, shibori women’s maxi dresses and shibori men’s casual shirts can be great for wearing to summer weddings and other semiformal events.
Shibori shorts and skirts look great with a white blouse or white T-shirt, mostly because of the white part of the pattern itself. But also, the white contrast lets the indigo color be the star of the show. The combo of white and indigo is striking and classy.
As for styling typical American-style tie-dye, as we know it, it’s certainly a more casual look than what shibori offers. While you will want to save it for more casual wear, it also looks great matched with white bottoms. However, you can’t go wrong with a tie-dye T-shirt and some men’s or women’s jeans or jean shorts.
So when you wear your Lands' End shibori print maxi dress and someone says, "What a pretty print!" you can say, "Isn't it, though? It was inspired by an ancient Japanese dye process called shibori." The words "tie-dye" needn't pass your lips at all — which just makes the whole deal that much cooler.