One of the most classic and adaptable — yet overlooked and underrated — men’s accessories is the lowly bandana. While our great-grandfathers were just as likely to grab ‘em to blow their noses or mop their sweaty brows, today we’re likely to use them as anything from stylish SPF for our scalps to necktie substitutes to ersatz belts. The right bandana can handily transform ho-hum jeans and a t-shirt into a credible outfit as quickly as popping on a hat or a beanie.
As a token of fashion, the bandana has inspired looks that span cultures from biker chic to Western wear to rap style to queer identity. A bright pop of red, blue, or black in the classic paisley print is about as Americana as apple pie, but the 20-plus inch square of cloth has also served as a canvas for self-expression for everyone from couturiers to corporate swag designers. Bandanas have taken on an iconic place that transcends apparel, elevating a simple “rag” to a work of art. One thing it’s not is a proper substitute for a COVID-19 face covering, unless, of course, you’re using it to cover up the clinical look of a surgical mask.
Here we’ve recommended a few we like but be sure to check out thrift shops and auction sites like eBay or Etsy for vintage numbers that will boost your style cred. While nobody wore it as well as Tupac, here are some of our favorite ways to rock this must-have accessory.
If the headband on your favorite straw hat has seen better days, a bandana can make a proper Panama look a little more laid back. Roll the bandana to a width of an inch or so at its widest and tie it around the inside of the brim and tie a square knot. Unless you’re working with a collector’s item, consider cutting the bandana in half diagonally to make the band less bulky.
N-A Sixteen 22×22 inch Bandanas
Yes, that bald spot may in fact be the “solar panel that powers a sex machine,” but let’s keep it in good working order by protecting your sensitive scalp. Fold the bandana in half diagonally, grab the two ends and drop it over your head with the fold towards your forehead. Pull the two ends behind your skull and cross once. Tug the end of the triangle down and complete a square knot to secure the end. This kerchief look can be a lightweight substitute for a hat that easily tucks into your pocket, but fair warning: unless you’ve got the right swagger, this look can go very “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Ask your significant other what they think before you leave the house.
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Urban Outfitters Dragon Print Bandana
Ah, yes, sensei, while wearing a Hachimaki may be great for binge-watching sessions of Cobra Kai, we’re going to suggest not going full-bore Ralph Maccio on us. Stick to a bandana to keep sweat and hair out of the eyes for everything from workouts, to working in the yard, to waxing the car. Fold the bandana in half diagonally, roll into a flat band, and tie around the head. This bandana’s print is a tribute to when television took a break for the night, so seems just right for an evening of Netflix and chill.
Hanks Kerchiefs Alex Bandana
Tupac Shakur wasn’t the first to do it, but for sure he wore a bandana with a tie to the front (on an elegantly shaved head) better than anybody else. The question here is, are you cool enough to pull it off? Answer carefully and thoughtfully before wearing this iconic look any further than your front door. See above for directions. We like BBC’s Planetary System Bandana for its universal point of view.
Sometimes a t-shirt just feels like it wants something else. Sometimes a casual woven shirt looks a little too casual. Add a touch of color and frame the face with a bandana tied like a necktie. Be sure the bandana is well-washed and broken-in, though. You’re going for cowhand cool here, not Boy Scout pure-of-heart. Roll the bandana lightly and pull around the neck with one end a little longer than the other. Wrap the longer end around the shorter end as though you were about to tie a 1/2-Windsor and tuck through. We think this Seager x Huckberry collaboration two-pack gets the point across nicely.
Seager x Huckberry Rodeo Bandana 2-pack
Wearing a bandana around the wrist is considered a sign of gang culture in some circles, but we’re reclaiming it as a signal of great style. Don’t tie it too perfectly lest others think you’re cramming for a first-aid course, but just let it be a casual hit of color and pattern. (Do it right and it’s also a great place to stash a couple of bucks.) Wrap the loosely rolled bandana around your wrist twice and use the opposite hand (and your teeth if necessary) to tie a Granny knot. Add to your street cred and cop this Levi’s collaboration with Japanese streetwear A Bathing Ape.
Levi’s x BAPE Bandana
Sometimes we all get a little too hung up on the meaning of things. A bandana shoved into a back pocket can be laden with innuendo, as with the aforementioned gang sign or gay semiotics. Sometimes a bandana is just a bandana. Yes, that was a red baseball cap shoved into Bruce Springsteen’s back pocket on the cover of the Born In The U.S.A. album, but we think putting a bandana there is a great way to add a little rocker color to an otherwise boring outfit. Keep your favorite bandana handy for life’s moister moments. This Pendleton print, named for a peak in Oregon’s Western Cascades, is solid as a rock.
Depending on your waist size, a bandana can be a downright bohemian substitute for a classic belt, especially worn with denim or khaki. You may just be giving up a couple of cocktails or Ho-Hos to make this trick work, though. The average bandana is about 22 inches square, allowing you 31 inches diagonally to create a belt. We’re sucking in our guts and hoping the best for this extra-large 27-inch square number, which should allow 38 inches across: enough for a very small knot.
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