What are Bandanas?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Bandanas are square or triangular cuts of cloth, usually made of cotton, which can be used as neckerchiefs, headscarves, or in a variety of other ways. They were first made in India, where especially women wore them as headscarves. Since then, they’ve been popular when worn by cowboys, especially to cover the nose and mouth from dust when riding, worn as a head covering by American women, and even worn as a fashion statement for a brief time by 1980s rock and new wave musicians and their fans. Unfortunately, today, many gang members wear bandanas in various colors to express gang affiliation.

Bandanas are usually made of cotton.
Bandanas are usually made of cotton.

You can find bandanas in variety of color choices. Print bandanas, especially in navy blue and red with paisley designs are some of the most popular. There are many that may feature various colors or be made in special fabric choices. Around Halloween, for instance, you’ll often find orange, sparkly bandanas and black ones. The black bandana with white polka dots, and day glow colored ones were particularly popular during the 1980s.

Many people pair a bandana with a Stetson hat.
Many people pair a bandana with a Stetson hat.

Worn as a headscarf, a bandana can be tied in several different ways. They can merely be tied in a simple knot under the chin, which is usually the most secure tie. Alternately, they can be tied behind the head. This type of tying is not as secure and tends to slip off easily. Still, it's often more attractive than the front tie, especially if your face is round. On the other hand, if you’re working and want to cover the hair, the front tie makes more sense.

Typically, bandanas are inexpensive. Those made of cheap cloth may be purchased in bulk and cost less than a one US Dollar (USD) each. When purchased singly, you’ll pay about $2-5 USD a piece. Rectangular bandanas tend to be more expensive than triangular ones since they use more cloth.

One popular trend with bandanas is their use for school field trips. Children are each given a same color (normally a bright color) bandana to wear so they can be quickly identified as part of a field trip group. Young children also look especially cute all sporting a brightly colored scarf or bandana for the day. The look can enliven school pictures and provides for an easy way to keep children grouped together.

While the bandana may be seen as cute for young children, they may have less attractive associations for teens. Many middle and high schools forbid wearing any type of bandana or scarf to school since they may be considered “gang” clothing. This is a shame because these inexpensive cloths are practical in addition to being decorative.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - I don't really like the traditional cotton bandanas but my sister once got me one that was made for travelers and I absolutely loved it. It wasn't just a square of cloth, it was a tube of some synthetic material that was supposed to be quick drying and able to wick away sweat and there were about a dozen different ways that you could wear it to keep your head protected, or keep your hair back from your eyes.

Unfortunately, I loved it so much that I wore it everywhere and I accidentally forgot it on a train one day. I really need to get a replacement because it was the most useful travel accessory anyone has ever gotten me.


@croydon - I actually find them to be annoying, because I end up buying them, thinking I will use them but I never actually do. And it's not like you can give them to a thrift store, because they are so common that no one else wants them either.

They have some associations with cancer patients but even more associations with gangs and criminals, so I would be careful about that as well. Putting the wrong color on your bandanas might end up being a mistake.


Bandanas are an excellent idea for fundraising if you are looking for a product. They are easily and cheaply made with any kind of pattern you might want to put on them. They are small, useful and can be made very bright and if people don't want to wear them as bandanas they can sew them into something else.

I've seen them used with art prints as a means of fundraising for cancer (with which they have a strong association because of hair loss from chemotherapy) but they could potentially be used for any other cause.

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