Wearing a bandana is not considered cultural appropriation. Many different cultures and ethnic groups wore bandanas for various reasons. White or lighter-skinned peoples are also a big part of the bandana’s history, making it socially and culturally acceptable to wear.
If you’re looking at your drawer full of bandanas, wondering if you can spice up your outfit without offending anyone, you’re in luck. In the rest of this article, we’ll explain the vast history of bandanas and why wearing one is not generally seen as cultural appropriation.
Are Bandanas Cultural Appropriation?
If you look back through history, all sorts of people have worn bandanas for various uses and it does not belong to one specific culture.
Bandanas often get worn to keep hair clean and protected when working. In the industrial era, working men wore them around their necks to prevent sunburns- many believe this to be where the derogatory term “redneck” started.
The square kerchief has also been used as a fashion accessory to highlight a woman’s beauty. The style has been a part of many different cultures.
Bandanas are a unique piece of fashion because it spans centuries and cultures. To truly know whether or not wearing a bandana is cultural appropriation, you first have to understand its history.
Related Article: Are Hoop Earrings Cultural Appropriation?
Brief History of the Bandana
The bandana got its start in Asia. The word “bandana” likely came from Hindi or Urdu language.
In the early 1700s, the Dutch East India Trading Company brought the square printed fabrics from India to Europe, marketing them as shawls for women. The bandana shawls were very popular among European women.
The current bandana that we know got its start in America’s colonial era in the 1700s. Many popular styles tended to make their way to America, much like the bandana shawl- however, America liked to put its spin on things.
Thanks to Martha Washington, the bandana became smaller than the larger shawls and gained popularity during and after the Revolutionary War.
Afterward, during America’s industrial era, bandanas were easier to mass produce and were convenient for keeping dust and sweat off your head. Bandanas have remained popular ever since.
Is it Considered Offensive to wear a Bandana?
The topic of cultural appropriation will always be up for debate. Whether or not something is culturally offensive can always be argued-it’s unavoidable.
Wearing a bandana, however, is of low concern when it comes to cultural appropriation debates. It has spanned across many cultures and races, making it widely acceptable for all people groups.
Bandanas are associated with many groups, such as rock groups, gangs,cowboys and outlaws, and even LGBT communities.
Each group had its reasonings behind the bandana, whether it was a fashion statement, practical, or a way to distinguish what group you belonged to based on the color you wore.
Related Article: Is Henna Cultural Appropriation?
Do Bandanas have Cultural Significance?
Headscarves are known to carry cultural significance for some groups, but generally speaking, bandanas do not.
The bandana became a staple for people long before becoming a fashion accessory. Instead of being an item for a specific culture, bandanas have been an icon to unite different peoples.
At the start of fashion week in 2017, the Business of Fashion challenged influencers, designers, and journalists to tie white bandanas around their wrist to “make a clear statement in support of solidarity, human unity, and inclusiveness amidst growing uncertainty and a dangerous narrative peddling division.”
The bandana historically gets used for practical purposes, such as preventing sunburns on the back of the neck. When used to cover one’s nose and mouth, the fabric acted as a shield from inhaling dust or to protect the wearer’s identity.
Is it Inappropriate for a White Woman to wear a Bandana?
White women can wear most styles of bandanas without fear of appropriating another culture.
Bandanas are a part of many cultures throughout history, including white. Looking back at old photos, you’ll find many white women sporting a bandana or fashionable headscarves for either style or cleanliness purposes.
Queen Elizabeth, the late queen of England, was a proud headscarf bandana-wearing white woman. It was one of her go-to looks when heading out to the countryside.
Rosie the Riveter is another famous white woman, albeit fictional, who sported a classic bandana look. Working women of all colors in WWII wore bandanas to keep the hair out of their eyes and to soak up sweat.
Because the bandana is a part of so many different cultures, white women should be able to enjoy wearing a bandana without fear of offending anyone.
Is a Bandana a Headscarf?
It is important to distinguish that bandanas are one type of headscarf used for women’s fashion, worn similarly to a traditional headscarf. However, the terms are not interchangeable.
Some headscarves, depending on how you wear them, can be more likely seen as cultural appropriation than bandanas.
When bandanas are wrapped around your forehead or neck to act as a sweat guard, it would not be considered a headscarf. Both men and women use bandanas for this purpose.
Bandanas are not cultural appropriation because they have been used for practical reasons and fashion by many people groups for centuries. A bandana keeps your hair safe and secure. It also wicks away your sweat and keeps you safe from sunburns while looking fashionable.
While you may see Chicanas or other darker-skinned people wearing bandanas more frequently, whites or lighter-skinned individuals can also wear them. Their origin is inclusive. They are a part of white heritage and colonial America’s history.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.