History of the Bandana (Part I) – Bandana Zone

History of the Bandana (Part I)

History of the Bandana (Part I)

Bandana is originated from the Hindi 'bāṅdhnū' and in Urdu 'bāndhnū' meaning a tied, bound cloth. 

If you considered Bandanas a passing fancy in the fashion or popularity stakes, think again. They have actually been around for well over 200 years in many guises. You can learn more about their past here. Bandanas certainly have a longer history than most people might expect. In the US they were born out of the struggle for independence. This was actually down to George Washington’s wife, Martha.

Bandanas as a tool for political struggle.

In 1775, when travelling north to join her husband for Christmas – he was commanding the Continental Army at the time, Martha visited Joseph & Esther Reed in Philadelphia. Whilst there she met with John Hewson, a printmaker recommended by Benjamin Franklin for his skills & defiance in regard to a ban on textile printing by the British. Hewson copied the drawings of militia flags & cannons that Martha shared with him but lacked a good likeness of George Washington to complete the design. This was forthcoming early the next year, however. The Washingtons were celebrating their anniversary at the Massachusetts headquarters when a parcel arrived from Philadelphia containing a drawing of the General on horseback.


The world's first Bandana, George Washington 1776

George Washington wrote a humorous letter of thanks to Joseph Reed "Mrs Washington desires I thank you for the picture sent her. Mr Campbell has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-Chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror in his countenance."

By Summer 1776 patriots were cheering that very image of Washington on America’s very first souvenir bandana! Many followed George Washington’s example by being portrayed as heroes on bandanas in pursuing their political ends.
(In more recent times celebration bandanas were passed to East Germans to celebrate reunification when the Berlin Wall collapsed.)


World War 1 Valentine Fundraising Picturette


1952 Campaign bandana “Win with Ike for President”

The popularity of printing squares of fabric featuring ideas & matters of consequence continued. Referred to in the early days by some as “ little banners,” bandanas increasingly became a means of economically promoting a range of issues. After all, they had the additional attraction of being an extremely versatile item of clothing, uses ranging from a handkerchief, a mask, a headscarf, a neckerchief, through to a means of carrying a bundle of goods, a bandage or a sling!

These were the years preceding industrialization – the bandanas were hand-loomed squares of fabric printed with images to value & save. Bandanas would pay homage to war or sporting heroes; demonstrate support for electoral candidates; & encourage patriotism through both World Wars.

(to be continued)

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