As the all-around, universal-use square of fabric, the bandana has wrapped heads, necks, wrists, thighs, and even ankles of everyone from cowboys to rock stars. Head to toe, the bandana has got you covered.
A simple cotton handkerchief, or sometimes just a crude cut of cloth, the bandana first became associated with the Old West. The cloth neckerchief was worn around necks, pulled up to cover the mouth and nose as a protection against the dirt and dust of the uncivilized western frontier. But when outlaws or bandits began wearing their neckerchiefs pulled up to conceal their identity when they stirred up trouble, the bandana got a bad rap.
The uniquely printed cloth in bright red or navy blue later made a great hobo bag when tied to a stick and slung over the shoulder, the perfect luggage for any kid planning to run away from home. When those kids grew up, they couldn't let go of the safety net, and the bandana became the working man's sweat rag and nose tissue, permanently stuffed into the back pocket of dungarees or overalls. The snot rag's reputation got a lift in the 40's when ladies tied up their hairdos with the bandana, making it a colorful, but casual do-rag.
During the 80's, the bandana got a facelift, and gone were the old-fashioned western print colors. In their place came band logos and ninja symbols. What 80’s teen didn’t have a room plastered full of bandanas emblazoned with Ozzy, Pink Floyd, or Def Leppard? No longer was the bandana hidden in pockets during the heavy metal 80's. If a bandana wasn't rolled and wrapped around your neck, it was wrapped around the head to keep the sun from burning your freshly-shaved head, or tied across your forehead in your best Loverboy impression.
Girls followed Punky Brewster’s lead, wrapping a rolled-up bandana around their wrists or ankles—and here, one just wasn't enough. Layer them up like your double slouch socks, match them to your different color hi-tops, or wear them as bracelets and necklaces. Nothing was cooler than a colored bandana wrapped around the thigh of your acid-washed jeans.
Handkerchiefs took a violent turn when inner city gangs adopted ‘colors,’ most often displayed by a colored bandana wrapped around their heads. The simple bandana that has always been the staple of hardworking, honest men, and the occasional western outlaw, now became the sign of territory and bloodshed. It’s an ugly turn to an old favorite, but no other cloth has had such a varied and exciting history as the simple square bandana.
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