The Hanky Code: When Bandanas Aren’t Just For Looking Cute

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So, bandanas are back. At least on my campus, that is. I can’t tell you how many girls (myself included) accessorize an otherwise boring outfit by twisting a colorful bandana into a headband. Tada! You are instantly adorable. Last year, however, I saw a few girls with folded bandanas hanging out of their back pockets. When I inquired about the seemingly odd fashion trend, somebody told me that these women were “flagging”. I had no idea what that meant, so I did some research.

According to my extremely reliable online friend,, flagging originated in the 1970s as a code within the gay community. It is also referred to as “Handkerchief/Hanky” Code, and is widely used among those seeking casual sex or those practicing BDSM in the leather subculture. My fellow MSP Blogger, Jeana, passed along some useful information on flagging from a book she was reading, More Man Than You’ll Ever Be: Gay Folklore and Acculturation in Middle America by Joseph P. Goodwin. According to Goodwin, the most important distinction in flagging is which side the bandana is worn on.

“The right-left distinction is important, whether the handkerchief is carried in the back pockets or worn around the arms, wrists, or legs. When worn around the neck or as a headband the bandana indicates that the wearer is willing to take either role. The multiplicity of colors provides additional information. Although there is some variation in interpretation, there is generally a common understanding of each color’s meaning. A white bandana represents a desire for masturbation; a man wearing it on the left wants to be masturbated, and one wearing it on the right is willing to perform this act for his partner as well as for himself. Light blue (robin’s egg) is the color for oral intercourse, and dark blue (navy) stands for anal intercourse. A man wearing a black bandana is interested in sadomasochism. Red designates fistfucking (brachioproctic intercourse). A hustler (male prostitute) wears a green bandana on his left; a man seeking a hustler’s services wears a similar handkerchief on the right. Olive green expresses an interest in military uniforms. A mustard colored bandana, worn on the left, means that the wearer is “well hung,” having a penis at least eight inches long when erect; the same bandana worn on the right means that the wearer is seeking someone of such proportions. Yellow stands for watersports, wherein one partner urinates on the other, and brown is worn by those interested in scatalogical acts. Someone willing to do anything at any time displays an orange bandana on his left. On the right the bandana for some carries the same meaning; for others it is a statement that they are not interested in having sexual relations for the time being. Another item one occasionally sees gay men carrying in their hip pockets is a teddy bear about six inches tall. The teddy bear signals a desire to cuddle or be cuddled.” (pp 26,27)

Wikipedia gives a full list of which colors coordinate to which sexual preferences. You can find the list at the link I posted above, but I’m going to summarize with my personal favorites.

Black: Indicates the wearer’s interest in S&M, specifically whipping

Red: Fisting. If worn on the left, indicates the wearer is the insertive partner, if on the right, the wearer is the receptive partner.

Grey: Bondage

Baby Pink: Dildos

Royal Blue: Uniform Fetish

Pale Blue: 69

Orange: No sexual limitations

Acqua: Acquaphilia (a desire to have sex under water, such as in a pool or bathtub)

Lime: Food play

Coral: Foot Fetishism

Argyle: A geek/nerd interested in a geek/nerd

Silver: When worn on the right, this indicates that someone is looking to have sex with a celebrity/rock star. When worn on the left, this indicates that the wearer is a celebrity themselves.

Grey Flannel: Suit and tie fetish

Gingham: Indicates the wearer wishes to have sex in an urban park

So, my biggest piece of advice is you may want to be aware of the Hanky Code the next time you’re just trying to look cute by wearing a bandana. You might be making more than just a fashion statement. But hey, if that’s what you’re into, I say go for it!

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About Michaela


Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.