What Is the Meaning of Colored Bandanas?

Named from a Hindi term that means “to tie,” bandanas arose in popularity in the Old West as a method of keeping sweat and dust from the face, but they now have socially associations with many different types of crowds, including gang members, criminals and rock music fans. While the color of the bandana is important in the identification of the wearer, the placement of the bandana is also a key representation of the individual's group association.

Gang Association

According to the website ShannonsCorner, bandanas are often used to represent gang affiliation. The most popular bandana gang colors are red, blue, black, white, gray and yellow, and can be worn on the head or coming out of a right or left pant pocket, which also has gang significance. (see ref 1, page 5 and 34)

Bloods and Crips

According to the website StreetGangs, the Crips were the first gang to use an affiliation bandana color in the 1970s. The Crips' bandana, which was blue, caused their rival gang,, the Bloods, to wear the opposite color (red) to show their gang's colors and to intimidate the Crips' gang members.

Hanky Code

In the homosexual community, colored bandanas can be used in bars or social situations to to represent a person's sexual fetish or their relationship status. Striped colored bandanas symbolize a certain racial or ethnic preference, while color and pattern combinations can signify the wearer's willingness to perform a certain sexual act. The placement of the bandana also has meaning in terms of sexual preference. Popular in the 1970s among the gay community and still used today, the “hanky code,” as it is known, is also used by the mainstream community.


In the Old West, wearing a colored bandana was socially associated with being a criminal, according to the website Retroland. This connotation arose from the outlaws of the Old West using the bandana as a way of shielding their face to avoid recognition. Prior to this, bandanas worn on the face were used to shield the face from the dust and dirt.

Rock Fan Colors

In the 1980s, different color bandanas were worn to represent the wearer's choice of band or music artist. According to the website Retroland, bands such as Ozzy, Pink Floyd and Def Leppard logos were common on colored bandanas, which were usually worn around the neck or on the forehead.