For just a simple square of cloth, the bandana enjoys a long and storied history. Far from being a mere fashion statement, its uses are as varied as the palette of colors and styles that are readily available. Today, we take a look back at this versatile cloth that has served the masses so well over the years.

The bandana first came into renown in the Old West, where the cloth was used as a neckerchief, pulled up to cover the mouth and nose as protection against the dust and dirt of the as-yet uncivilized frontier. Unfortunately, this led to outlaws using the bandana to cover their faces during robberies and crime, and the bandana quickly became associated with the wrong side of the law.

Later, the bandana became fashionable as a hobo bag, tied to a stick slung over your shoulder, and holding all your belongings as you rode the boxcars. This romantic notion gave kids the inspiration to use this method of packing when they planned to run away from home. The bandana was also just the basic necessity of sweat rag and nose tissue for the common working man, stuffed into back pocket of dungarees. But, it was also fashionable for ladies in the ‘40’s to tie their hair back with this otherwise macho-style do-rag.

Bandanas became marketing icons in the ‘80s, decked out with band logos and ninja symbols. Pieces of cloth with Ozzy, Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard logos adorned the walls of teens. These bandanas were no longer stuffed into pockets, but rather rolled and wrapped around your neck, tied around your shaved head, left dangling from a belt loop, or knotted around your forehead ala Loverboy.

TV’s Punky Brewster inspired the girl’s look by wrapping a rolled up bandana around her wrists and ankles. Girls would layer multiple bandanas with slouch socks and hi-tops, and wear them as bracelets and necklaces, or tie them around the thighs of their acid-washed jeans.

But history also has this interesting habit of repeating itself, and the bandana look turned violent again in the 90s, when inner city gangs adopted “colors” displayed by bandanas of a specific color to signify which gang they had pledged their allegiance. Still, despite the occasional negative connections, bandanas remain ever-popular and are still sold in mass quantities at stores around the country.

We suspect that you may have worn a few of these cloth squares over the years, hopefully to express your sense of fashion, or counter-culture tendencies, rather than knocking over the local liquor store. Share your memories of these iconic accessories with all of us in our comments section, as we pay tribute to to a fashion item that has enjoyed such a rich and colorful history.

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