by Jasper Lipton


There’s a difference between plain old ‘blue’ and indigo. Good indigo has a richness and a shine to it; an iridescence that connotes sea and sky. Good indigo makes you dream of mortars and pestles in small cottages; of scoured deserts; of midnight and flowers and green, growing things. It’s a color that’s full of life, and full of power. It’s my firm belief that no self-respecting witch would ever wear black. Oh, no; there’s no better color for getting down and sky-clad with the local coven than indigo.

Fitting, for a dye that, for centuries, was associated with royalty worldwide - with magic and religion, even; I’m talking Pharaonic embalming, cuneiform dye recipes, or Vishnu - before the invention of synthetic indigo turned it into the color of blue-collar workers. This means that whatever your own internal fantasy, be it 20th-century French industrial worker or Edo-era farmer, indigo has you covered. And that fantasy comes in part from the process historically required to produce the dye. Once the dried leaves of various plants (the well-known Indigofera tinctoria being just one of several species used to create the indigo color, although indigo-producing plants are found - and have been cultivated - all over the globe) have been harvested, they must be soaked and fermented. Skeins of fabric are then dipped into vats the color of the sky behind a full moon - upon removal, the color starts out green; reminiscent of oxidized copper, and slowly turns to blue over time. I’ve been lucky enough to do this by hand - it’s an incredible transformation to watch, and really does feel a bit like witchcraft. 

Not all of the magic’s in the dyeing. The finished product, if it’s done well, is equally impressive. Indigo is a dynamic color, and as it ages it only becomes more beautiful. I’m not just talking about denim, because there’s more to indigo than a contrasting warp and weft. Part of indigo’s beauty is in the wonderful variation in tone that the dye can exhibit: as indigo-dyed fabrics fade you might find ocean blues or greens, storm-grays and delicate purples. Take a look at what brands like Blue Blue Japan or Post-Imperial are doing with natural dyes (and with well-done synthetic applications, sometimes), and you’ll realize that the blue clothes you’ve been wearing aren’t really blue at all, they’re just some boring shade of not-quite-indigo. No, if you’re going to commune with the stars, you’ll need the proper threads - which you’ll remove later while howling at the moon, of course.

Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in May 2016.