The Bandana - An Accessory of Expression – Tenue de Nîmes

Bandanas have been around for centuries and, throughout those centuries, have been associated with a wide array of groups and movements. Some people might associate bandanas with gun-slinging, tobacco-smoking cowboys, as seen in the famous John Wayne Spaghetti Westerns from back in the day. Others might associate them with Japanese fashion labels that heavily incorporate them into their world-famous, meticulously crafted collections. These are just mere examples that popped into our minds; you probably associate them with something totally different.

As you might have gathered, apart from its physical attributes, a square-shaped cloth that often features print, the bandana is a rather hard-to-define accessory. What does it mean, and what is its purpose? It is precisely this conundrum that makes the bandana so special. You might want to wear one just to look cool, which is totally fine. We can't deny that it has a badass flair to it. But the bandana can represent much more than just a fashion statement. Just like jeans and white tees, the bandana is a workwear staple for the people. It's a means of expression, a means of showing unity and defiance. It's been that way for ages.

The new Tenue. Birkenstock Bandana Custom 

In celebration of the killer Tenue. Birkenstock Bandana Custom, customized with vintage, US-made bandanas (!), we wanted to share the history of this accessory and what it has meant throughout time. We hope this short history lesson will give you more appreciation and intent when you decide to tie a bandana around your neck, tuck it in your back pocket, or wear a pair of clogs with a bandana stitched to its strap.

The bandana dates back to the 17th century and finds its roots in the Middle East and South-East Asia. In this region, silk and cotton scarfs were printed using wood carvings and dyes made from indigenous plants. The bandanas found their way into Europe through trade routes and, probably, not such decent other ways. The most popular at the time, and still today, was the 'Turkish Red' bandana since it was made from a dye that wouldn't fade over time. We won't share the ingredients with you for your own good, but rest assured that these aren't used nowadays. As one can imagine, such commodities were rather expensive. European manufacturers wouldn't take long to create their own, cheaper bandanas. Most famous was a small town in Scotland named Paisley, that produced these scarfs in a certain tear-dropped pattern that they nicked from the original design.

Rosie the Riveter, a famous World War 2 advertisement.

Up until this point, bandanas were still just a sort of scarf, not much more. It wouldn't be until the American Revolution that things got interesting. No one less than George Washington's wife, Martha, is rumoured to have kickstarted the popularization of the bandana in the mainstream. For his birthday, she gifted George a bandana on which he heroically rides a horse whilst surrounded by canons. If that doesn't scream American freedom, we don't know what does. After the revolution, this story became so popular that George's gift was mass-produced. People from all over the US would wear these scarves with pride as a sign of their fought-for freedom. From then onward, the US would have an undeniable infatuation with bandanas.

During the 18th century, bandanas became immensely popular with working-class Americans as they could serve a multitude of different purposes. One could use it as a handkerchief, mask, scarf, tourniquet, and, most famously, tie it at the end of a stick to carry their belongings. This endless applicability would lead the bandana to become part of the standard issue uniform during the Civil War. However, it wasn't this war that made the bandana a household garment. During World War 2, bandanas were given to women working in war-time factories to keep their long hair in place. During that time, the bandana became much more than a practical accessory through famous symbolizations like 'Rosie the Riveter'. It became a symbol of strength, defiance and unity.

Tupac Shakur seen wearing a bandana in his iconic fashion, shot by Dana Lixenberg.

In the following decades, similar symbolic traits would be given to the bandana by totally different groups and for totally different reasons. Through icons like Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and Axl Rose, all giving the accessory their own connotation, the bandana would further cement itself as a cultural phenomenon. In the not-so-distant past, Business of Fashion gave a beautiful new meaning to the bandana with their #tiedtogether campaign. At the beginning of the fashion week season in 2017, the outlet would inspire people to wear a white bandana to show their support of solidarity, unity and inclusiveness. This shows that still after all those years, it holds a similar meaning to what inspired people in the states to wear their bandana. Although still hard to define, we can with certainty say that the bandana was, is and will always be an accessory of expression.