The red bandana is a patterned cotton cloth that has persisted to be a major piece around the world. It targets everyone, from the young kids to teenagers, adults, and seniors. A bandana is a fifty-five cm square piece of cotton with printed colored design. The word « bandana » has its origin from Hindi « bandhnu », which is a method of dyeing. In the Sanskrit, it is called « badhanati », the verb to dye tie, referring to a technique of tie-dying cloth. This art was widely used in the East and was exported to the New World in the form of large handkerchiefs in the early 18th century. From « Bandhani » came the names ‘Bandana’, ‘Bandanna’, and ‘Bandannoe’, which all describe the same cloth. The classic « Turkey red » black and white paisley bandana entered the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 1986 (see image above). The « Turkey red » as it is called, is the resulted color of a laborious method of fast-dyeing cotton textiles. It has a hemstitched finish, and the cotton used is a higher grade one. Concerning the Paisley patterns, they were initially made through the process of bleaching; to do so, people used perforated lead plates and spread chlorine through the holes. The actual design represents what is called « buta » in Persian, a droplet-shaped vegetable motif. Bandanas have been produced in mass for years, and today a classic bandana costs around $3 depending on where you shop it — fancy bandanas produce big famous brands such as Hermes can cost a couple hundreds dollars. People wear bandanas for multiple uses both functional and decorative such as a handkerchief, neckerchief, forehead band, face mask, sweatband, napkin and the list is long.

The use of the bandana evolved with time and place. Originally, the bandana was popularized during the American Revolution (18th century) when textile printmakers documented historical events on cloth. The world’s first bandana was released in 1776 and was ordered by George Washington, the first President of the United States. Therefore, the bandana « became a venue for advertising military and political opinion » — a tool for political struggle. The printed bandana 1 encouraged war support, especially during World War I and II. On the home front, the bandana increased soldiers’ morale and allowed them to demonstrate their support. Farmers, railroad workers, and coal miners used to wear the bandana to wipe sweat from their face, protect them from dust. They rather wore printed bandanas instead of white kerchief to conceal their identity. In this context, the bandana was linked with the working classes and social revolution, and solidarity; it was a symbol of « working-class masculinity »2. In addition to that, the bandana was used to commemorate fun events, promote movies and sporting events — the bandana was a tool for advertising and marketing. Not only the bandana allow spreading ideas, but it was also a functional accessory. It protects people’s mouth and nose from dust, people’s face from the sun, and people’s ears from cold weather. Inspired by their parents, children found another function for the bandana; since the ninetieth century they use the bandana to play games such as Blindman’s Buff, and they found ways to turn the bandana into doll’s cloth. In the mid-twentieth century, the bandana became a fashionable accessory since the French couturier Hermes printed creative silk scarves. Queen Elizabeth and Grace Kelly, for example, wore the Hermes version of the bandana. Simultaneously, Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders and country/western icons commonly wore and still wear the bandana. In the late sixties and seventies, it was also worn as a fashionable accessory for women. At the same time, it also served to identify members of each gang — for instance, the red bandana identified the Bloods gang — but also served to communicate the homosexual community.

Nowadays, the bandana has been popularized so wildly that all classes of the society wear bandanas — the rich, the middle rich, and the vulnerable. The young girls and boys on the beach, the teenagers to be fashionable, the women wear bandanas as scarves, the men wear them as a masculine accessory on the forehead, the older women wear high-end version the bandana such as a Hermes silk scarves around the neck, the Chefs at restaurant wear them to avoid sweat and hair to fall in the plates, the rockers wear them as well (like Johnny Depp during the Grammy Awards from February 2016). It is a timeless accessory, and targets every audience; it is both functional and decorative. These aspects make the bandana a good (or great) design. The red one is iconic, but people choose to wear it in different colors, and some even have a collection of Paisley Bandanas. It is worn for decorative and practical uses, which means that its design is well thought and realized. The only dark side of this object could be that it can be used as an offensive weapon — to strangle, to whip or gag someone — but can also be considered as a good defensive one. On the other hand, it can be regarded as a survival object. The bandana also awakens people’s creativity — a vast number of functional uses for the have been found. On the blog « Survival at Home »3, Patrick Blair states survival uses for the bandana. The bandana is an excellent emergency medical tool as it can be turned either as a bandage, a sling, an eyepatch, a pressure dressing, dust and smoke masks, a cold compress or a compression wrap. It is also an alternative to hygienic paper such as a diaper, baby bib, and toilet paper. At home the bandana plays many roles, it can either be a sponge, a napkin, it can filtrate water tea and coffee, or can be a salad spinner.


Lynch, Annette, and Mitchell D. Strauss. “B Bandana.” Ethnic Dress in the United States: A Cultural Encyclopedia. N.p.: n.p., 2014. 17–19. Print.

Huber, Patrick. Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912–1936. Western Folklore ed. Vol. 65. N.p.: n.p., 2006. 195–210. Print. Lessons of Work: Contemporary Explorations of Work Culture

History of the Bandana.” Web log post. Bandanashop. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

Chayka, Kyle. “The Vibrant History of the Iconic Paisley Bandana.” Mental Floss. N.p., Sept.-Oct. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.

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