My Ombre Dress (And a DIY)

I’m sure you’re all aware of the Ombre Hair Trend. I can honestly see why it caught on. Pretty much, all you have to do is let your dark roots grow in. Is it still going strong? Or has it fizzled out? I don’t know. I’m not so great at keeping up with this kind of stuff.

For a long time I’ve been wanting to ombre a white linen and cotton Old Navy dress. I bought it back in 2010, along with the one seen at the end of this post. It was offered in Tall size and on clearance so I bought two. The navy one has gotten a lot of use but the white one just hung in my closet. It fit fine but it was so sheer that even with a slip, you could see my undergarments.

My Mother had bought a bottle of Royal Blue Rit Dye ages ago to dye a pair of pants. I asked her about it and she said I was welcome to use it if I dyed said pants too. I would have preferred to look into using a natural indigo dye but since we had this on hand, I made do.

Outfit Details:
Wool Cardigan – LaRedoute (ages ago!)
Ombre Dress – Old Navy DIY
Flats – eBay
Earrings – c/o Under the Shade of a Bonsai Tree

A Simple Ombre Dyeing How-To
If you want to give this a try yourself, it’s quite simple. Rit has a how-to on their site but I thought it was more complicated than it needs to be. Hopefully, the method I’m sharing here is a bit more simplified. It seems to have worked. The dress is still in one piece. I’m still in one piece. I know I’m calling this a how-to but it’s more like a how-I-did.

With that said, I will add: Please read all manufacture’s instructions/labels and follow any precautions they warn. I cannot be held liable for any injury or dye accidents. This method worked for me. Don’t follow this unless you’re willing to use common sense.

Two things I learned the hard way:
If working outside, don’t start at 7 o’clock at night. The shorter days kind of crept up on me and I wasn’t anticipating finishing in the dark. Which leads me to my second lesson: Make sure your garment is hanging straight when dyeing. Mine was a bit crooked which resulted in a wonky gradient, as you can see. Even so, I still love it.

You’ll need:
One bottle (or packet) of RIT dye
1 cup salt
3-5 gallon bucket or bin
3-5 gallons water
rubber gloves
plastic shopping bag*
hose or shower**
washing machine or water and detergent if you want to hand wash

Optional depending on situation/preference:
waterproof cover or sheet, clothes hanger, bleach (for cleaning up)

*In case you need to carry your wet dyed garment from indoors to outdoors or one room to another and don’t want to drip.
**I recommend a hose outdoors but if you have to you can do this in a bucket or bin placed in a shower. Be warned that the instructions state that Rit can stain fiberglass. (The plastic bucket I used is still a very pale blue color.)


You should pre-wash your garment to remove any finishes the manufacture may have put on or dirt it may have accumulated.

If you pre-washed in advance, rewet your garment thoroughly. Wring it out and uncrumple it. Like I said above, make sure it’s hanging straight and not bunched up anywhere.

Put on your gloves! If you’ll be doing working indoors, you might want to lay down a tarp or waterproof cloth of some kind.

Pour one cup of salt in the bucket. Pour in the dye. Don’t pour the dye from up high or it can splatter. (You may not need the full bottle. I used a full bottle because I was also dyeing a pair of pants. The rule of thumb is 1/2 a bottle per pound of fabric.) Now fill the bucket about 3/4 full with hot tap water. It’s smart to aim the water at the side of the bucket, again to avoid the dye splattering. I used one of those moveable hose-like shower head things. You could tilt the bucket under the bath faucet.

If you can, move your bucket outside, near a hose.

Now comes the dipping. I didn’t really have a special method at this point. I just dipped and swirled a little. The very bottom part stayed submerged the entire time, resulting in that dark blue. The very top of your dye line should only be in for like a second and never re-dip fully up to that line between dyed and un-dyed otherwise it could create too pronounced of a line. You’re looking for a gradual color change, get it as pale as you can get it at the top.

It takes anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes to fully dye. I didn’t have a timer on hand but I can tell you I went through about four Mumford and Sons songs on my iPod. So maybe 15-20 minutes?

Time to rinse. The instructions state to start with a warm rinse then gradually get colder. But I was using an outdoor hose so it was only cold. Just be sure that you are holding the garment so that the water runs down, from light section to the dark section. If you hold it upside down the dye could run into the light area of the garment. Keep rinsing until water runs clear.

Now you can wash by hand in warm water with soap or in a washing machine. They recommend a warm cycle with detergent. I put my dress (and my Mom’s pants) on the quick light cycle which is actually a cold cycle. (If you put in a plastic bag to transport it, remove it from the bag before putting in the washer!) If you hand wash you can probably keep the un-dyed part out of the water therefore keeping it it’s original color (in my case it would have been pure white.) But I put it in the washer (with the dyed pants) so the top part of the dress ended up a very pale blue because it was swirling around in the same water. I kind of wished I would have hand washed so the top would be pure white but hey, it was late and dark and I was ready for bed.

Now either hang to dry or throw in the dryer.

If necessary, you may need to use a bleach solution to clean any tools or other things that came in contact with the dye. Again: Rit says to never dye in anything made of fiberglass because it will stain.

I’ve washed the dress separately the first time after wearing it, to prevent any lingering dye from bleeding onto other clothes. (I made a point to wash it in warm water this time, to be sure the color was set.) All seems well so next time I’ll toss it in with my regular load.

Next time I hope to use a more natural dye or even try experimenting with making my own dyes.

Any questions or if you’d like something clarified, let me know!


  1. Reply
    Casey November 5, 2012

    It looks great!

  2. Reply
    Snoodles November 5, 2012

    Great job…I love the look you achieved!

  3. Reply
    Jacquie November 5, 2012

    The dress looks great Liesl. Well done!
    So nice to see you are still wearing the earrings too!

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