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What is a Bandanna?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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A bandanna, or bandana, is a large piece of cloth that is square or triangular in shape and typically brightly colored with some sort of pattern or design. Sometimes called a kerchief, it is generally worn on the head or around the neck. The name comes from the Hindi word bandhana, which means “to tie.”

Often made of cotton or cotton blend fabrics, bandannas are sold in hundreds of color variations. The most common print is paisley, but there are also many different prints, designs, and patterns incorporated into them. Some are also made of different fabrics, including silk.

A bandanna is worn for both decorative and practical purposes. Practical uses for wearing one include working outdoors or in hot conditions. Worn around the neck, the cloth can be pulled up around the nose and mouth to lessen the inhalation of dust and debris. Worn around the head, it can prevent perspiration running into the eyes. Many athletes wear them for similar reasons.

Another practical use for a bandanna that also serves a fashionable purpose is as a headscarf for cancer patients. There are hundreds of catalogs specializing in bandannas and other fashionable headgear for chemotherapy patients. Many other people elect to wear one or similar headgear solely as a fashion statement. They can cover the entire head or be fashioned into a headband that simply wraps around the forehead and ties in back.

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Other uses for a bandanna include tying all four corners together to form a knapsack, substituting it for a handkerchief, cowboy and engineer costumes, and various other fashion statements. Certain colored bandannas have long been associated with gangs in urban areas, but most areas simply view them as fashionable headgear or practical accessories. The popular reality television show Survivor saw the revival of similar headgear called a buff, which differs from in that a buff is a continuous band of fabric rather than a single layer, square piece of cloth.

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