If ever a 22-inch square of cotton could tell stories, it would be the bandana.
This simple piece of cloth has swabbed the sweat off the brows of sailors, farmers, miners, soldiers and factory workers for generations. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a Western film without a cowboy sporting some version of it.
Around midcentury, bandanas evolved from a strictly utilitarian item to a fashion statement. In recent years, rappers and other celebrities including Rihanna, Christina Aguilera and Hailey Bieber have rocked bandana fashion. Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Coach and Japanese designer Hidaeki Shikama have employed the motif in collections.
And as is often the case with fashion trends, bandana prints have gravitated from the wardrobe to the rest of the home. These days, they fit comfortably in many décor styles, including farmhouse, vintage and cottagecore.
“The versatility of the (bandana) trend allows designers to stretch themselves with fresh takes, while preserving the integrity of this timeless classic,” says Sarah Ward, senior vice president of brand marketing for Spoonflower, the digital printing marketplace for indie designers.
She’s seeing artists using the motif on fabric, wallpaper, throw pillows, curtains and bedding.
Portland, Oregon-based illustrator Jeremiah Witting, for instance, has created a pattern he calls Western Paisley that’s offered on Spoonflower as yardage fabric, in a rich red.
Denise Tolman of Fort Worth embraces her Texan and American Cherokee heritage in her Fabric Is My Name studio on the site, with white on denim blue and white on black bandana-print fabrics.
And Max Humphrey, a designer in Portland, Oregon, transitioned to design from the film and music industries several years ago and describes his aesthetic as “cowboy high style.” He goes for an easy, welcoming vibe with spaces filled with vintage collectibles and eclectic furnishings. His latest project is a book, “Modern Americana” (Gibbs Smith, 2021), with a whole chapter on bandanas.
“I’m always collecting something — panoramic military photos, milk-glass chickens, Hudson’s Bay blankets, paint-by-number art, and most recently bandanas," he says. "I like that there are so many styles and colors. As a collector, it’s obvious that older, rarer ones are more special and pop up less if you’re out thrifting. Bandanas are having a fashion moment, but that’s been true of most decades across pop culture, from bikers in the ‘70s to Tupac in the ’90s. Interior design tends to take cues from high fashion, which borrows from street style.”
Humphrey has turned pieces from his bandana collection into pillows, tablecloths and napkins. And he recently found another use for them.
“I was working with a client who said it would be cool to have a bandana print for a room we wanted to wallpaper.”
Humphrey “collaborated with a graphic designer to take bits and pieces from my own vintage bandanas" and found a printer to manufacture it. He now offers the paper on his website.
“Bandanas can be incorporated into any interior decor style,” he says. “They fit right in with my Americana rooms, but they can go boho, hippy, preppy, country or rustic.”
The Bandana Blanket Company has ash wood round and rectangular coffee tables with bandana print tops, in a range of colors. There are area rugs, throw blankets, dining chair slipcovers and shower curtains, too.
Zazzle has melamine plates, ceramic mugs, wall clocks, and ceiling and table lamps featuring the bandana paisley motif, in vibrant hues of red, blue, purple, turquoise, green or gold.
Kiriko Made, a Portland company that uses Japanese textiles, makes bandanas with evocative prints drawn from traditional Japanese patterns like arrows, pine needles, cherry blossoms, wind and waves.