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What Is the meaning of coloured bandanas?

Named from a Hindi term that means "to tie," bandanas arose in popularity in the Old West as a method of keeping sweat and dust from the face, but they now have socially associations with many different types of crowds, including gang members, criminals and rock music fans. While the colour of the bandana is important in the identification of the wearer, the placement of the bandana is also a key representation of the individual's group association.

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Gang association

According to the website Shannons Corner, bandanas are often used to represent gang affiliation. The most popular bandana gang colours are red, blue, black, white, grey and yellow, and can be worn on the head or coming out of a right or left trouser pocket, which also has gang significance.

Bloods and Crips

According to the website Street Gangs, the Crips were the first gang to use an affiliation bandana colour in the 1970s. The Crips' bandana, which was blue, caused their rival gang, the Bloods, to wear the opposite colour (red) to show their gang's colours and to intimidate the Crips' gang members.

Hanky code

In the homosexual community, coloured bandanas can be used in bars or social situations to to represent a person's sexual fetish or their relationship status. Striped coloured bandanas symbolise a certain racial or ethnic preference, while colour and pattern combinations can signify the wearer's willingness to perform a certain sexual act. The placement of the bandana also has meaning in terms of sexual preference. Popular in the 1970s among the gay community and still used today, the "hanky code," as it is known, is also used by the mainstream community.


In the Old West, wearing a coloured bandana was socially associated with being a criminal, according to the website Retroland. This connotation arose from the outlaws of the Old West using the bandana as a way of shielding their face to avoid recognition. Prior to this, bandanas worn on the face were used to shield the face from the dust and dirt.

Rock fan colours

In the 1980s, different colour bandannas were worn to represent the wearer's choice of band or music artist. According to the website Retroland, bands such as Ozzy, Pink Floyd and Def Leppard logos were common on coloured bandanas, which were usually worn around the neck or on the forehead.

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About the Author

Leah Waldron-Gross

Leah Waldron is the head of Traveler Services at First Abroad, a gap year travel company based in Boston and London. As a travel, research and LGBT news writer, Waldron has publication credit on magazines and newspapers including "Curve Magazine," "USA Today," "The Sun Sentinel" and the "The Houston Chronicle." Waldron has a bachelor's and master's degree in creative writing from Florida State University.

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