Friday, March 13, 2015

Feature Friday: Bandanas

Bandanas. Another item, like overalls, worn by men and women of all ages. Every different color and pattern to choose from. Many different ways to wear it. An accessory that will always stand the test of time. 

So how did they come about? How long have they been around? Where did the word "bandana" come from? 

Today's Feature Friday focuses on the history of bandanas!

The word "bandana" is believed to come from the Hindi word, 'bāṅdhnū' meaning a tied, bound cloth. Surprisingly, these handy pieces of cloth have been around for over 200 years.

The bandana first came into renown in the Old West, where the cloth was used as a neckerchief, pulled up to cover the mouth and nose as protection against the dust and dirt of the as-yet uncivilized frontier. Unfortunately, this led to outlaws using the bandana to cover their faces during robberies and crime, and the bandana quickly became associated with the wrong side of the law.

Ironically, bandanas were also once used as a "tool for political struggle" thanks to President George Washington and specifically his wife, Martha. 

In 1775, Martha went north to meet her husband for Christmas, he was commanding the Continental Army at the time. While there she met with John Hewson, a print maker recommended by Benjamin Franklin for his skills & defiance in regard to a ban on textile printing by the British.

Hewson copied the drawings of militia flags & cannons that Martha shared with him and some time later, they received a parcel from Philadelphia containing a drawing of the General on horseback.

By the summer of 1776, patriots were cheering that very image of Washington on America’s very first bandana (photo on left). Many followed George Washington’s example by being portrayed as heroes on bandanas in pursuing their political ends.

Sometimes referred to as, “ little banners,” they increasingly became a means of economically promoting a range of issues. After all, they had the additional attraction of being an extremely versatile item of clothing, ranging from a handkerchief, a mask, a headscarf, a neckerchief, a means of carrying a bundle of goods, a bandage or a sling.

These were the years preceding industrialization – the bandanas were hand-loomed squares of fabric printed with images to value & save. Bandanas would pay homage to war or sporting heroes; demonstrate support for electoral candidates; & encourage patriotism through both World Wars.

Bandanas continued to move beyond politics by promoting special events from world fairs, commemorated anniversaries such as the Declaration of Independence, & acted as records of both the landscape & legendary characters of the Wild West.

The 1900's saw bandanas promoting movies like Snow White and sports teams like The Yankees.

By the late 60's, bandanas were frequently worn by teenagers, sometimes on the head, but also tied around the leg. In the 80's and 90's, they were also sported by bikers, and musicians.

Today, the bandana is far from representing a political point or achievement. It's a creative accessory to fashion that adds a little flare. 


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