When was the last time you gave any real thought to bandanas? Those of us who use them barely notice them even though we see them everywhere – on heads, around necks, in back pockets, tied to straps. But a world without bandanas would be a lot less fun and far less colorful. So let's take a closer look at that ubiquitous but sometimes overlooked article of clothing called a bandana.
What Is a Bandana . . .
The bandana is, basically, the
modern equivalent of a kerchief, but with some differences. In fact,
the bandana, pretty much in its present form, has been around for
going on 300 years. And it's a lot more than just a square cloth to
wipe your nose or your forehead with.
A kerchief (from the French
which means cover
the head) is a
triangular-shaped (but sometimes square) piece of fabric usually tied
over the head or around the neck for both protective and decorative
purposes. A bandana, on the other hand, was most often a square cloth
a bit larger and often more colorful (frequently paisley) than a
kerchief and originally worn mostly on the head.
But now bandana colors have
exploded into a multitude of hues, as well as a variety of patterns
and sizes (no longer just 20 inches by 20 inches), and the uses have
Although a bandana resembles a
kerchief (which dates at least from ancient Greece) in shape, size,
and function, it differs in the kind of fabric used. A kerchief was
generally made of linen while a bandana was (and still is) most
commonly made of plain-woven cotton, or cambric, and sometimes silk.
Further, kerchiefs were/are generally plainer than bandanas, with
fewer prints and colors.
had and have far less decorative function than bandanas, being worn
chiefly as a head covering. Bandanas have had practical applications
and have served as identifiers among sailors, farmers, cowboys,
and gang members. Having started out as a two-tone paisley-print
cotton cambric cloth, bandanas have come a long way.
you can find them imprinted with logos, slogans, and political
messages. They are used for everything from personal expression to
symbols of group identity to promotional tools for political
campaigns and popular culture.
Some of the Bandana's
itself is believed to come from the Hindi bandhana
which means to
Bandana colors and patterns were originally created by means of the
traditional resist dye techniques found in Turkey and India.
that once especially characterized bandanas comes from Kashmir in the
ancient Persian empire (not from Paisley in Scotland). This pattern
of curved, feathery shapes is the one most commonly associated with
bandanas and was largely based on a pine-cone design that can be
traced back to India.
Persian word for the paisley pattern is boteh.
It actually has several meanings and shades of meaning, including
and is also thought to refer to a palm leaf or a repeating pattern of
a cluster of leaves. In any case, this boteh design stretches back
2,000 years to ancient Persia from where it made its way to India and
was called buta.
But in the eighteenth century,
owing to trade with the Far East, the bandana and its signature
patterns came to the West. And that's where it really took off.
The Bandana Comes to Europe
In the eighteenth century, the
Dutch East India company imported woven cashmere buta print bandanas.
These quickly became hugely popular as shawls for women. They also
served as status symbols because they were very expensive, with
demand soon outstripping supply, and only the well to do could afford
them. As a result, companies in England and Scotland soon began
production of their own shawl-like bandanas to meet the demand.
The name badnahati
made its way into Portuguese to become bandannoe
and finally became our bandana.
There were, however, more than just changes in the name occurring at
The most popular pattern at
the time was a lopsided teardrop pattern, the paisley of the day,
which went through various permutations in both name and pattern in
various countries. In France, it was called "tadpoles," and
in Wales it was known as "Welsh pears." In America, the
pattern was called "Persian pickles" before finally being
widely recognized as paisley.
The Bandana Comes to the
The first ever true bandana,
as we know it today, was the result of a curious incident involving
Martha and George Washington. It happened like this . . .
In 1775, Washington had
assumed command of the Continental Army. Martha was traveling to
spend Christmas with him and made a stop in Philadelphia to visit
Joseph and Esther Reed. While there, she met the print maker John
Hewson, who had been recommended to her by Benjamin Franklin as a
skilled artisan and for his defiance of the British ban on colonial
While in consultation with
Hewson, Martha showed him some drawings of militia flags and cannons,
which he copied, but she still needed a good likeness of Washington.
While celebrating their anniversary the next year, the Washingtons
received an unexpected parcel. It contained Hewson's depiction of
General Washington on horse back – printed on fabric. And the
bandana was born in the American colonies.
It wasn't long till patriots
were cheering at Washington's image on our first souvenir bandana.
This incident marked the beginning of our use of bandanas to promote
all manner of ideas and causes.
In the early days, these
bandanas were known as "little banners." Besides providing
an economical way to promote causes, they were a versatile article of
clothing, with uses including as a mask, handkerchief, neckerchief,
headscarf, and bandage, as well as being a convenient pouch or bag to
carry other items in.
The Washington Effect
That original Washington
bandana has been the inspiration for political sloganeering ever
since. The phenomenon probably hit its peak in the 1950s. For
example, in 1952 Dwight Eisenhower printed his campaign slogan –
"Win with Ike for President" – on bandanas and had them
distributed to supporters.
Then such bandanas moved into
the world of advertising and marketing and later pop culture, gaining
momentum with imaginative and experimental elements. Bandanas were
used to promote awareness of everything from sports teams to
breakfast cereals to Elvis. It was a new marketing strategy that you
could tie around your neck or use to cover your head.
And let's not forget the early
world of sports. Bandanas emblazoned with Yankees identifiers were
common. Here are a couple more examples . . .
In 1889, the long-awaited and
highly publicized, as well as highly illegal, bare-knuckles boxing
match between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain took place. This
famous bout was held in a secret location – a clearing in the
Mississippi countryside and in 100+ degree heat. It was long before
the age of TV, and spectators needed aids to help them keep track of
the action. So each contestant had his own bandanas tied to the post
of his corner and around his wrists to help identify who landed
punches. (An interesting aside: Mississippi Governor Robert Lowry had
put up a $1,500 reward for the arrest of the fighters.)
Almost a 100 years later in
1987, bandanas played a big role in the World Series. When the Series
was held in Minnesota that year, fans of the Minnesota Twins lined up
for blocks to buy a bandana called the "Homer Hanky." When
Dan Gladden hit a grand slam, fans in the stadium waved their
bandanas and sang "My Baby Waves the Homer Hanky."
This bandana was created by a
local newspaper in support of the home team. This happening was
touted as a unique phenomenon, but, actually, it had a number of
predecessors in the baseball world.
Bandanas for Workers'
The bandana also achieved a
prominent place in the world of work in the early twentieth century.
In the 1920s, the bandana became a recognized symbol in the struggle
for workers' rights.
In 1921, the famous West
Virginia Coal Miners March saw over 10,000 protestors wearing red
bandanas around their necks as a symbol of unity in their cause.
These United Mine Workers were agitating for better working
conditions and union protections. The outcome was a 100+ casualties,
as well as the impetus and inspiration for the labor movement. It's
also from this march that we get the term "redneck."
Moving Toward Today
Since the early days of the
bandana on this side of the Atlantic, its purpose and uses have
exploded . . .
– During this decade, the bandana became a functional fashion
statement among women. They used bandanas to tie their hair back to
keep it from blowing in the wind and becoming disheveled. (We can
also see the origins of the doo
in this usage.)
– Besides becoming a valuable promotional tool in political
campaigns, bandanas began to be used for a range of issues and causes
chiefly because they were such a versatile item of clothing. They
could by used in many ways to display an insignia or logo or slogan.
– It was during the 60s that the paisley pattern made a major
come-back. Speculation has it that paisley bandanas enjoyed a
resurgence owing to the fact that John Lennon had his Rolls Royce
painted in paisley after the Beatles' trip to India.
– This is when bandanas begin to serve as a group identifier,
especially for people with alternative lifestyles. Often, different
colors signified sexual preferences.
– In the 80s, bandanas came into widespread use by urban gangs.
Usually, each gang had its own designated color and design (paisley
still popular), often incorporating a gang insignia. These bandanas
helped foster gang identity and promote unity (much the same as with
the protesting miners).
– This was the era of signature
musicians ranging all the way from country performers to rock and
hip-hop stars. Just think of Willie Nelson and Tupac.
2000 and Onward – In the first couple of decades of this century, bandanas have continued to expand in materials and design,
Cowboys and Bandanas
We would, of course, be remiss
in our overview of bandanas if we didn't mention them in connection
with cowboys. This is especially true because today's bandana is
uniquely American, and the cowboy is that iconic figure who embodies
the American spirit of adventure and love of freedom.
For cowboys, a bandana was a
functional piece of clothing, sometimes necessary for survival, as
well as a fashion statement. It served to keep sun off the neck and
dust out of the eyes and nose on cattle drives. And cowboys were
indeed fashion conscious – from their daringly worn gal-leg spurs
to their colorful bandanas tied and worn just so around their necks.
Consider silent-film star Tom
Mix, known for making breathtaking leaps onto his horse. Mix always
wore his signature bandana, which also became a major marketing tool.
Kids would plow through bowls and bowls of cereal to become a member
of the "Straight Shooter Club" – and maybe win a prize
like an autographed bandana.
Outdoor Uses for Your Bandana
Never think your bandana is
merely a piece of clothing or just a fashion accessory. There is, in
fact, a whole lot more you can do with it, especially when it comes
to outdoor activities. Consider these interesting uses from Outdoor
. . .
Signal or Marker – If you happen to get lost or want to avoid getting lost, you can use your bright-colored bandana as a signal for rescuers or as a trail marker.
Tote – Just tie the corners together, and you have a handy tote bag for carrying loose items when your hands are full.
Tourniquet – In the event of a serious injury like a laceration, your bandana can be fashioned into an effective tourniquet to stanch blood flow.
Cordage – When you need rope or twine and don't have any, you can tear strips off a bandana to serve the purpose, even braiding them together for more strength.
Sling – A larger bandana makes a good sling in case of an injured arm or sprained wrist.
Washcloth or Towel – When you don't have either of these, your bandana will do the job admirably.
Water filter – In an extreme situations, you may have to drink whatever water is available. Your bandana won't get rid of the impurities and microbes, of course, but it will filter out small debris and mud.
Bandage – Bandanas have been used this way for a long time (think Civil War) and can still do a good job as a makeshift bandage.
Fire Starter – When you don't have anything else ready to hand and need the warmth, you can always use your bandana a fire starter.
Toilet Paper – Not a pleasant thought, but when worse comes to worst, a bandana can be used as toilet paper.
Your Source for Quality,
So what's not to love about
bandanas? And here's where it gets even better.
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specialize in bandanas of all kinds – paisley, solid
and many more. Our bandanas have found homes in schools and churches
and are worn by everyone from veterans to bikers to pets. You can
also get discounts – even on single pieces – in four easy steps:
Select the bandana color
Select your desired size
Select your packaging option
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We have only one goal: to
offer a large portfolio of quality products at affordable prices. To
order your uniquely American bandanas or just to discover more,