Spotlight on History: The origins of the Bandana

Bandana

bandanas are used more as a fashion statement for tying back hair

Bandanas. You see them all over, that versatile little square of cloth. Where did the bandanna originate? And how did they grow in their popularity?

Bandanas have been around for over 200 years. Their popular function was a handkerchief (in pre-Kleenex days) or worn around the head or neck to keep dust out of the eyes and sweat off the neck and out of the collar. The word bandana comes from the Hindu word bndhn which is  a process used to dye small pieces of cloth.

 

At the end of the 1700s, with the British controlling the large landmass known as America, the colonists were thirsting for independence. In an effort to control the colonists, the British imposed a ban on printing.

It was at that time of political struggle that Martha Washington was on her way to visit her husband George when she stopped off in Philadelphia. She wanted to bring George Washington a gift and upon recommendation of Benjamin Franklin, she asked John Hewston, a printmaker to print a bandana a picture of George alongside military flags and cannons. Although it was illegal, John complied.

 

When the war was over, that bandana was reprinted for the masses and so was the first souvenir bandana created!

Many other politicians started printing their pictures and slogans on bandanas as well. Bandanas were also printed for war heroes, sports stars and were used during WWI and WWII to promote patriotism. They were also used as a marketing tool for companies. For example in the 1920s Kellogg’s put a bandana into their boxes of cereal with instructions how to sew it into a stuffed animal!

 

Part of the reason bandanas took off so well, is that they easily absorbed the same ink used for printing paper (both were made from cotton) and fit on the printing press.

 

While bandanas were valued in the past for their protective benefits, nowadays, bandanas are used more as a fashion statement for tying back hair, to add to an outfit to spice it up or many other uses. So next time you tie a bandana around your head, keep in mind its rich history!

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