The Origin of the Cowboy Bandana
Have you ever seen a cowboy with bandana?
While the cowboy hat and the poncho are hugely important parts of the Western wardrobe, the bandana is just as important – if a little bit smaller and less immediately noticeable.
Bandanas are the ultimate in versatility. Cowboys could use them for everything from shielding their face from the hot sun to robbing a bank while disguising their identity. In reality, bandanas were probably used most commonly for blocking dust during horse-rides – since the horses would kick up so much dry dirt and dust that cowboys had to cover their mouths and eyes with wet bandanas just to breathe/see.
The history of the Western bandana is very interesting – showing how a simple piece of utilitarian clothing can be adopted for its style and what it implies about the wearer.
Origins on Ranches
The bandana started out an adaptation of another popular clothing accessory, the kerchief. Bandanas were worn for their usefulness rather than for any stylistic consideration – and they were normally tied around the neck since their main use was to block dust and dirt when riding horses through dry terrain.
Periodic dust storms in the American southwest also necessitated bandanas for daily riding – and there are people throughout the world (like the ranchers in Australia’s interior) that still use bandanas for these reasons. Bandanas were also useful for other sundry tasks around the ranch – like filtering out water, tying off wounds, and cleaning off one’s face after a shave. In a way, the bandana was the “Swiss Army Knife” of ranch living – performing a huge variety of indispensable functions. Just like Dallas cowboys bandana
Evolution for Banditry
With the popularity of Western movies, it has become hard to separate the atmosphere of the American West from the way that it has been portrayed in film – and the two have a lot of overlap. For one, there is some question among scholars over just how “lawless” the American West was during its expansion – and obviously, movies overplay this side of the area for the sake of dramatic impact. In Western movies, bandits always ride freely between Western towns – robbing banks and stealing cattle.
To be sure, after the Civil War was over there were lots of bandits that made their way to the American West – former Confederate soldiers that couldn’t adjust to civilian life and that made their living by robbing towns and ranches. Bandanas were useful in this capacity since they helped bandits simultaneously appear like they were just ordinary ranchers while also giving them a tool that they could use to cover their face during a robbery to stay anonymous.
The bandanna is still around to this day – one of the many pieces of Western-style that have stuck with the popular consciousness thanks to their presence in movies and TV shows about the era. Ever since the first Westerns with Zoro and other heroes mounting their horses with their bandannas in the wind, people have purchased bandannas to try to look like their favorite Western actors.
Of course, unlike some other accessories – your bandanna can actually be a practical addition to your style. If you are frequently backpacking, riding ATVs, or doing outdoor activities in the desert or Outback, your bandanna can protect you from dust inhalation and it can block the sun when you need it.