The bandana – a square of cloth worn round the head or neck or in the back pocket of a pair of work pants – is as old as weaving itself. One can find images on Greek urns of women, dark curls escaping cloths wrapped around their heads, and scraps of square cashmere Persian shawls dating back 400 years.
No one can be completely sure, but it is widely accepted that the word Bandana comes from the Hindi 'bāṅdhnū' and in Urdu 'bāndhnū' meaning a tied, bound cloth. By the 18th century, the word had been anglicized to 'bandannoes'.
These 'bandannoes' became 'bandanas' in the British Colonies, where the light cambric cotton they were made of was popular in warmer climates. The iconic 'Turkey Red' paisley fabric was largely exported from Scotland to British Colonies, which may explain why red bandanas are still the most common.
They were utilitarian go-to's – cowboys tied them over faces to keep dust out of mouths and noses, or to keep the sun off the back of their necks. Women used them to tie their hair up and keep their curls fresh while they worked. Before wrapping and packaging paper became cheap and plentiful, parcels were wrapped and tied with bandanas.
Martha Washington, the Very First First Lady, popularized the American bandana by commissioning an illustration of her husband printed on them, in spite of a British mandate outlawing the printing of textiles in the colonies at the time. This popularized the bandana as commemorative propaganda for political campaigns in the U.S.
The Industrial Revolution opened the floodgates for textile production and printing, and soon the bandana was the canvas to commemorate sports teams, movies, actors and actresses as well as an advertising medium for all sorts of products; from overalls to cereal.
The bandana became an even more important symbol in the fight for worker’s rights. The West Virginia Coal Miners March of 1921 was one of the largest armed uprisings in labor history and, at the march, over ten thousand United Mine Workers wore red bandanas to demand unionization. Many consider this event the genesis of the derogatory term “redneck.”
Red bandanas are still used to signify resistance. In the Mexican state of Chiapas, Zapatista's Army of National Liberation display their silent resistance by wearing them. At recent protests in the United States, activists used bandanas to cover their faces to remain anonymous.
Thanks to Rosie the Riveter and John Wayne movies, the bandana has cemented itself in the lexicon of Americana during and after WWII. Since then, we have seen these colored squares used to communicate innumerable things: alliance to street gangs; sexual preferences in the, then underground, gay community during the 1970's and 1980's; or even political affiliations. The bandana can still be found as a souvenir in tourist shops all over the country, some still sporting the same design they had 50 years ago.
We at Standard Themes love the ubiquitous, utilitarian bandana. We love the souvenir that can be taken out of a backpack and used to tie our hair back. We get excited over the artifacts of trade history, political history and cultural movements. We hope one day to see someone wearing one of ours at a protest, tied to luggage at a baggage claim in Sudan, or pulled out of a purse to wipe an old lady's nose in Paris.
Most of all we hope that the stories we tell on these everyday canvases will be something you relate to, are inspired by, and make you feel lucky. We hope they become something you take everywhere.