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A Brief Buyer’s Guide to Bandanas

The bandana is the Swiss Army knife of the clothing world. Not only can these small pieces of patterned cloth be used as a versatile fashion accessory, but they also have countless functional uses, like wiping your nose, keeping your head cool on a hot summer day, or even impromptu first aid if you wore the wrong type in the wrong neighborhood. We’ve covered an extensive history of the bandana in the past, but if you’ve yet to step foot into the paisley-printed world of the bandana, we’ve put together this buyer’s guide to give you an informative briefing on the topic and point you in the right direction.

What is a Bandana?


Image via lookastic

A bandana is a relatively small square piece of cloth, normally decorated with a pattern or print. Typically measuring around 20″ x 20″, bandanas are primarily made from a piece of lightweight woven cotton that’s been cleanly hemmed around the edges.

Also known as a kerchief, bandanas are used globally for decorative, protective, and functional purposes, often worn around the head or neck.

Patterns and Printing


Image via Istock

Bandanas are usually one block color with a contrasting printed pattern, often of the paisley variety—a pattern that originated in ancient Persia (present-day Iran) and is traditionally made up of elegant ‘teardrops’ and other decorative shapes. While paisley is the most commonly used motif, bandanas often feature other patterns or printed images.

Patterns and images are applied to bandanas through the following methods:

  • Discharge printing – This method involves a treating a dyed pieced of cloth with a color-destroying agent (such as chlorine), which bleaches a pattern onto the cloth.
  • Screen printing – A process in which a mesh stencil stretched over a large ‘screen’ is used to transfer ink onto the fabric.
  • Resist dyeing – The cloth is treated with a solution before being dipped into the dye, and that solution prevents the treated areas from reacting with the dye, forming a contrasting pattern or sequence.

Caring for Bandanas


A faded Iron Heart Bandana.

The care regime for a bandana is subjective to the fabric it is made from, and how you want it to look. Most plain old cotton bandanas will be colorfast, meaning they can be tossed in the washing machine when needed, and you won’t have to worry about the color running (and you’ll have to let daily abuse wear down the dye if you want some epic bandana fades). Other bandanas may be dyed differently, or made from an alternative fabric like silk, meaning you’ll have to launder and care for them accordingly.

Examples of Worthwhile Bandanas

Hav-A-Hank Genuine Bandana


Hav-A-Hank’s been the world’s largest supplier of bandanas since 1946, and their classic bandanas are made in the USA from tightly woven 100% cotton. Seen here in bold navy and red colorways, Hav-A-Hank bandanas feature traditional contrasting paisley print and cleanly stitched edges to prevent fraying. A true American classic.

Available as a three-pack from Amazon for $15.49.

Iron Heart IHG-051


Images via Iron Heart

Iron Heart applied their own original ‘bell’ paisley pattern to this 100% cotton bandana using discharge printing. Each piece measures 19.5″ x 19.5″ and features Iron Heart branding on the corners. Coming in five bold colors, an indigo dyed version is also available under the code IH-052.

Available for $35 at Iron Heart.

The Hill-Side (various)


Images via The Hill-Side

The Hill-Side offers a selection of unique bandanas that step away from the traditional paisley prints and 100% cotton composition. In addition to a wide array of prints and patterns—including palm leaves and a zany burger-themed print—The Hill-Side also produced plain bandanas in a linen/cotton blend that come in a selection of understated colors.

Available for $23-$46 from The Hill-Side.

Kapital (various)


Images via Blue In Green and Canoe Club

Kapital is well-known for its diverse range of bandanas, and the Japanese label’s current collection features both indigo-dyed and colorfast selvedge bandanas, all complete with delicate hand-printed patterns and designs. And just to keep things really interesting, they also made a capsule of cotton bandanas decorated with psychedelic Peter Max-style prints—the iconic pop artist responsible for The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ album artwork.

Available for $34-$73 at Standard & Strange.

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