Bandanas have recently come back into style in a big way in 2020, and I am personally a huge fan. Seeing the bandana become trendy once again inspired me to explore the accessory’s trajectory throughout history. Read below to find out more about how they came to be, what made them so popular, and why they remain a staple to this day.

How bandanas came to be

The bandana has a rich and varied history as a popular accessory spanning multiple eras. The word ‘bandana’ is thought to originate from the Hindi word bāṅdhnū, which means ‘to tie.’ The bandana itself, as an object, is said to have roots in South Asia and the Middle East. The paisley pattern of classic bandanas originated in Persia. Nowadays, this square of colorful cloth has a patchwork of meanings and associations attached to it.

The bandana has adorned various groups of people from the time of its inception, from sailors to cowboys to farmers, miners and gang members. It has also been associated with general rebel culture throughout its history. In the 70s, different colored handkerchiefs worn by gay men signified different sexual inclinations and preferences. Different colored bandanas have also been used to signify different gang affiliations, such as to distinguish members of the Crips and the Bloods in Los Angeles. 

People often consider the 90s to be somewhat the hey-day of bandanas, as it became associated with famous artists such as Tupac, Axl Rose, and Christina Aguilera. The early 2000s were also host to some iconic bandana looks from stars like Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. 

Tupac wearing a white bandana and a chain around his neck.
[Image description: Tupac wearing a white bandana and a chain around his neck.] Via
Christina Aguilera wearing a red bandana and a red tank top
[Image description: Christina Aguilera wearing a red bandana and a red tank top.] Via Michel Linssen/Redferns on

The evolution of bandanas, from then to now

What’s so special about the bandana is it’s incredible versatility. Bandanas have appeared everywhere, from high fashion runways to hip-hop concerts. They have the ability to be both high and low brow depending on their design and fabric. This makes them unique and ideal for people who like accessories that are multi-use and wearable.  

The classic bandana fabric and pattern is cotton with a paisley design. However, recent iterations of the accessory have branched out significantly from the original design. Popular retailers such as Urban Outfitters sell bandanas in varied patterns and fabrics, ranging from silk or satin materials to tie-dye, floral or watercolor effects. Bandanas have become highly popular in the millennial and gen-Z markets through these retailers. 

Beginning in 2018 and continuing on to the present day, bandanas have seen a huge resurgence. In 2019, designer fashion runways showcased a variety of bandana looks reminiscent of the 90s and early 2000s. The Alexander Wang Spring 2019 collection in particular featured the accessory in a number of looks.

Alexander Wang Spring 2019 runway looks featuring bandanas.
[Image description: Alexander Wang Spring 2019 runway looks featuring bandanas.] Via JP YIM/GETTY on

Styling bandanas

The possibilities for how to style bandanas are endless if you aren’t afraid to get creative. They truly have the potential to be a wardrobe essential. A large enough bandana folded in half and knotted around the bust can make for a cute summer tube top. Knotted around the neck with a button-down shirt and you have a chic, Parisian-inspired look. Weave it through the loops of your jeans for a makeshift belt or tie one to the strap of a bag for a little pop of color.

A woman with brown hair wearing a red bandana and a black tank top.
[Image description: A woman with brown hair wearing a red bandana and a black tank top.] Via Urban Outfitters on
A pink and yellow bandana tied as a tube top on a model.
[Image description: A pink and yellow bandana tied as a tube top on a model.] Via Urban Outfitters on Pinterest.
Hairstyles involving bandanas can also be hugely varied. The accessory has the capacity to look bohemian, edgy, or girly, depending on how it’s styled. With delicate necklaces, hoops, and a simple outfit, a bandana really packs a punch. I have a brown silk patterned bandana I got from a thrift store for $3 that I wear often. It’s just the thing to spice up a neutral outfit when I want to feel effortlessly stylish. If you’re looking for a cheap way to up your accessories game and revamp the same old boring outfits, a bandana is definitely the way to go.
Maggie Mahoney

By Maggie Mahoney

Editorial Fellow

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