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Bandana code (hanky code)

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Bandana code (hanky code)

Discover the origin, the history and the meaning of the hanky code: from its creation to nowadays, through the LGBT movements.

At the end of this article you will know everything there is to know about the "Hanky code", and will be able to wear your bandana in accordance with this code, if you wish.


I) Meaning and definition of the scarf code (or bandana)

The "scarf code" (also called "Hanky code", "handkerchief code", "bandana code") refers to a system whose purpose is to make known one's interest for certain sexual orientations and practices. This was done by wearing a bandana of a certain color, usually in the back pocket of your pants (the choice of the pocket being important, we will come back to this later).

It was a way for gay men, and members of the BDSM community from the 60's to the 80's, to secretly signal their sexual interests at a time when homosexuality was very much frowned upon.

II - History of the Hanky code (scarf code / gay bandana code)


The Hanky Code was created at a time when open discussions about sexuality (especially between two men) were illegal, as was being gay.

It was thus created and used by gay men communities, mainly during the 70s and 80s. It was very present in gay bars, and allowed in a simple glance to let people know their sexual orientation, as well as their preference for certain practices according to the color and position of the bandana.

It was in a way an easier way to communicate (in a non-verbal way) one's sexual interests and preferences. In addition, the terms "hanky code" and "scarf code" became part of the gay lexicon.


Within popular culture, references to the hanky code eventually appeared in literature, film and art. These developments not only documented the once underground phenomenon, but also created a cultural record of the emergence of a gay male identity.

These cultural references have continued through the decades. A decline in the use of the "hanky code" in the mid-1980s was attributed to the reduction in anonymous sex practices due to the rise of HIV/AIDS.

However, the code scarf continued to be used in BDSM communities, where alternative sexual activities considered to be low-risk or no-risk of infection were practiced.

In the 1990s, a black and white checkered bandana representing a willingness to engage in safe sex appeared in the bandana codes. This was done to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and the importance of having safe sex.


Nowadays, in the modern era of legalized gay sex and social applications, the Scarf Code has become more of a fashionable way to start a conversation in gay bars rather than an active way to solicit sex.

III - How to wear your bandana according to the Bandana Code

The way to wear a bandana according to the "scarf code" is very simple: just wear it in the back pocket of your pants.

Sexual preferences will then be partly indicated by the pocket in which the bandana is placed:

  • the dominant / active wore a bandana in their left pocket;
  • the dominated/passive wore a bandana in their right pocket.

But also by the color of the bandana which was associated with a specific sexual practice or a particular fetish.


IV - Meaning of the colors of the bandana (Handkerchief code)

Indeed, bandanas of different colors indicated the sexual preferences or practices you wanted.

Thus, the Handkerchief code first started with the use of red bandanas to discreetly identify the practitioners of fisting or black for S&M, light blue for oral sex, ... But it did not stop there and was much more complex than that.


A list to decipher the meaning of all the colors was also created as other associations of colors and fetishes were added.

Queer groups and communities then printed the lists of meanings of the different colors of pocket bandana to distribute them. Stores, bookstores and erotic catalogs then provided lists of decoders to purchase bandanas, while gay bars printed the lists with all the information.

V - LGBT movement

Nowadays the scarf code is less present, although still used by some members of the LGBT community.


It is thus, today, more a fashionable way to start a conversation and to show easily one's sexual orientation, than to really show a preference for a precise sexual act.

You now know everything about the Hanky Code. If you want to show your affiliation to a group, or just want to add a touch of originality to your style, feel free to take a look at our wide range of bandanas in all colors.

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