When you really stop and think about it, bandanas are a lot like dumplings (yes, when I stop to think, this is the thinking I do). Not that I’m suggesting bandanas taste great in soup, but more that every culture on earth has their on version of the stuffed pocket of dough…the Italians and their ravioli, the Russians have Pelmeni, the Chinese dim sum, etc. They’re each called something different, but the basic idea – dough + filling = delicious, is universal.
And so is the bandana.
Considering how pervasive the bandana/kerchief is in American culture, it would be easy to think that it’s a home grown product. Like it or not, the imagery is baked into our DNA…bandits holding up a stagecoach, farmers mopping their brows, Rosie the Riveter tying her hair back, and the 60s counterculture adopting it as part of its uniform. But the idea of a big square of fabric being used to protect or decorate one’s head or neck is nothing new, and that’s why people the world over have been doing so for as long as there have been people the world over.
This has been especially so in places where it gets hot. Not like, “New York subway platform in August” hot (which is really hot), but more like, “What’s up with all this sand? Oh right, we live in the desert.” hot (and that’s really, really hot). Whether it be for modesty or to shield against the hot punishing desert sun, places like the Middle East had Dennis Hopper beat to the bandana party by a few thousand years.
Here’s a few other examples of “the bandana” from around the world.
1. The Shemagh/Keffiyeh
Often sporting tasseled ends, the shemagh usually features a loose weave (think ventilation) and is big enough to be worn around the head, neck, or both. It can be worn by men or women and come in any color, but black and white/natural is perhaps the most common. The shemagh and its variations are found all across the Middle East to protect its wearer from sand, dust, and sunburns.
2. The Panuelo
Worn by the gauchos of Argentina, this bright red silk scarf is worn by men, in peacock fashion, mostly for style but also for warmth.
3. The Babushka
I’m heading to Prague this summer and have read about the “army” of Czech grandmothers–babičkas–who run their daily errands, all wrapped up in babushkas. I can’t wait to be shoo’d out of the way by one of their canes as they head to the market!
4. The Hachimaki
Should you ever head to Japan to visit the birthplace of your prized Iron Hearts, you’ll likely see men wearing ahachimaki around the heads, usualy in solid colors or simple patterns, but often printed with an inspiring slogan or a rising sun. As for me, I immediately think of Sonny Chiba in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as legendary swordsmith turned sushi chef, Hattori Hanzo.
5. The Dhuku
The women of Zinbabwe (and in many other parts of Africa) are known for their colorfully printed and elaborately tied dhukus. You think tying a bowtie is tricky, watch a tutorial on how to tackle one of these and you’ll soon realize you’re getting off easy.
6. The Tengkolok
There’s a traditional piece of headgear worn by Malay men, usually for ceremonial purposes like a wedding, called a tengkolok that makes the fashioning of a dhuku seem as elementary as tying your shoes. It’s a striking look and hard to imagine that the finished result ever started out as a square of fabric. (When I got hitched, people thought my velvet jacket was over the top–good thing the ceremony was in Binghamton and not Malaysia…)
Since men and women have been covering themselves, there has certainly been some kind of bandanaesque piece that’s been part of their wardrobe. And considering the versatility, it’s no surprise that the bandana is as popular today as it’s ever been, likely more so. You can get fancy pants versions from all the usual suspects you read about here, or grab a plain Jane multi-pack on Amazon. Once you start using it, whether it be for fashion or function, just make sure to use your bandana.
If you were lucky enough to snag one of the volumes of The Bandana Book put out by Kapital Creative Director Kazuhiro Hirata (featuring his own historically significant collection), you’ll see that they just get better with age. Go ahead, honk your beezer into it…the kid who buys it at a vintage shop 50 years from now will thank you.