To dye for?
An interview with UChicago's own Tie-Dye Guy
I don’t know what I was expecting when I arranged to interview Rafael Menis, '11, a.k.a. “Tie-Dye Guy,” for the next issue of Core.
I knew Menis was a political-science major and philosophy minor. But for some reason I was not expecting—when I asked the obvious question, “Why?”—to hear that his unusual sartorial choice symbolized “support for the women’s-rights movement, the civil-rights movement, the anti-war movement in particular,” as well as “my right to freedom of expression under the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.”
Here are some more outtakes from my interview with Menis. And no, Dan Dry, I did not think to ask if he wore tie-dye underwear.
Do you wear tie-dye every day?
What do you find aesthetically pleasing about it?
I like the colors.
I’ve seen tie-dye done with a much more limited palette.
I usually like doing more rainbow patterns. I like having all the colors.
So you make your clothing?
I make some of it. My mom made some of it. My friends helped me with some of the items that I own. I don’t think I’m wearing any of those right now.
Is it difficult? Can you make it in the dorm?
I can. I’ve held a few workshops to teach people in my dorm how to tie-dye things. It just requires access to the proper materials. A pot to hold water to soak the clothing. Clothes of a natural fabric—at least 50 percent cotton or wool or silk. Soda ash water mixture. And then you need to have the dyes.
Any particular dyes?
They’re relatively dangerous. You should use them with gloves on. And they’re colorfast. Extremely so. Quite frankly, my clothes get holes in them before the dyes wear out.
What do people think of your clothing?
Some people react positively: “Oh, this is great; I like what you’re wearing; it brightens my day to see you wearing this.” Some people are like, “Are you a clown?” Some people just move away.
Why? Is it threatening?
It’s different, certainly.
Do you get any street harassment? Do people yell comments?
Eh. Sometimes people will say, “Nice clothes,” or they’ll laugh, or they’ll call me a clown.
Pretty limited repertoire of insults?
What do you do when that happens?
No one’s ever become violent, presumably?
Oh, goodness gracious me, no.
Do you ever get tired of wearing tie-dye?
I like it. If I didn’t like it, I would probably wear something else.
Can you wear it to your job?
Yes. I work in the Department of Civic Engagement. I work with the Neighborhood Schools Program and Chicago Public Schools-University of Chicago Internet Project. I fix computers.
Did you have to dress up for the job interview?
No. I was dressed like this.
How about after graduation?
I want to apply to the Americorps Program in California. I assume that if I was applying to be a business consultant or something like that, reactions would be extremely hostile. But seeing as I’m acting in public service, I assume reactions will be less hostile, and seeing as I’m trying to work in California, possibly even positive.
It’s kind of obvious, but I hadn’t really thought of your clothing as a manifestation of your political beliefs.
Were your parents radical?
Not particularly. My mother was wandering around. She spent some time raising goats. My stepdad was in the Army at the time. He actually was in Italy. He didn’t have to worry about Vietnam. He spent a lot of time playing music and eating pizza. He’s still a musician. He plays various woodwinds and teaches. My dad, I think, was still in school then. He died when I was quite young.
Maybe you stick out more in Chicago than in California, where you’re from?
I don’t get this sort of attention in California. If I’m wandering around the U of C Berkeley campus, I might hear comments like, “Oh, I left my tie-dye shirt back in my dormitory.”
And you never wanted to tie-dye a coat, the whole time you’ve been here?
No. I thought about tie-dyeing a trenchcoat, but I never quite got around to it.
Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93
January 4, 2011