All about bandanas

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A woman wearing a bandana on her head

A woman wearing a bandana on her head

Red and blue bandanas in traditional paisley patterns


A kerchief (from the French couvre-chef, "cover the head") also known as a bandana, is a triangular or square piece of cloth tied around the head or around the neck for protective or decorative purposes. The popularity of head kerchiefs may vary by culture or religion, as among Orthodox Christian women, Amish women, Orthodox Jewish women and Muslim women.


A "handkerchief" or "hanky" primarily refers to a napkin made of cloth, used to dab away perspiration, clear the nostrils, or, in Victorian times, as a means of flirtation. A woman could intentionally drop a dainty square of lacy or embroidered fabric to give a favored man a chance to pick it up as an excuse to speak to her while returning it. Handkerchiefs were sometimes scented to be used like a nosegay or tussy-mussy, a way of protecting those who could afford them from the obnoxious scents in the street.


The popularity of the bandana and kerchief was at it highest point in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s depending on one's location. After that its popularity started waning in the west, but some eastern cultures maintained its usage for a while, such as in the Persian Gulf countries. It is largely seen as gender neutral and can be worn by both men and women. Its usage when wrapped up was partially replaced by the headband.

A bandana (from the Tamil: Bandham, "a bond") is a type of large, usually colourful, kerchief, usually worn on the head or around the neck of a person or pet and is not considered to be a hat. Bandanas are frequently printed in a paisley pattern and are most often used to hold hair back, either as a fashionable head accessory, or for practical purposes.

Colours, and sometimes designs, can be worn as a means of communication or identification, as with the prominent California criminal gangs, the Bloods, the Crips, the Norteños, and the Sureños. In gang subcultures, the bandana could be worn in a pocket or, in some cases, around the leg. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, the Bloods and the Crips wore red or blue paisley bandanas as a signifier of gang affiliation.

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