The Ultimate Bandana Buying Guide for Denimheads
No matter how you position yourself in this scene, whether you’re a scrubbed dandy or a filthy grease monkey or something in between, you probably have at least one bandana in your rotation already. Worn around the neck, or stuffed casually into a back pocket, they are, for many of us, every bit as essential as our wallets and keys.
Read more about the whys and hows or jump straight to our list of bandanas here!
If you’re using your bandana as an oil or snot rag, you might have very good reason to scoff at some of the premium bandanas below. There’s no reason to invest in a quality item when a cheap bandana (or a scrap torn off an old pillowcase) will do just as well.
If, however, you see the bandana (as we do) as both an essential accessory and an art form in its own right, investing in a quality one makes all the sense in the world. They can add a splash of rich and contrasting colour to our blue-dominated kits, or they can give us yet another opportunity to showcase our love of all the countless ways indigo and cotton can collide.
Whatever we wear, and however we wear it, quality is key, and it’s not that much harder to find a quality bandana than it is to find a cheap one. Most of the makers we’ve covered in these guides have at least one bandana in their stables, and none of these are throwaways or afterthoughts.
This means that it’s a field absolutely packed with winners. After careful consideration, we’ve settled on a dozen bandanas that deserve a home in your back pocket or around your neck. Grab any of the bandanas we’ve listed below and you’ll be ready to take your cotton-soft accessory game to the next level.
The sections we cover in this guide:
- Why a well-made bandana is essential
- How to identify a well-made bandana
- Our list of well-made and essential bandanas
Why Well-Made Bandanas Are Essential
Bandanas might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but in terms of vintage workwear styles, they run right down main street. If you’re not already rocking a bandana somewhere in your kit, here’s why you should consider investing in a good one.
Well-Made Bandanas Are Timeless
In terms of design, there’s nothing simpler than a bandana. It’s a square piece of fabric, usually 100% cotton, and usually around 20 inches by 20 inches. It usually has stitchings along all four edges, but if it’s a selvedge bandana, it might have only two or three sides that have been stitched.
Many still use the bandana to clean their hands or to wipe the sweat off their brow, which blurs the distinction between the bandana and the handkerchief. Hankie history stretches back for thousands of years. From farmers and soldiers to czars and emperors, everybody had good reason to keep a scrap of cloth handy. This means that handkerchiefs might be history’s most enduring piece of EDC (every day carry).
Duellists used to drop a handkerchief to signal the beginning of the contest, and women in the nineteenth century had an entire coquettish language, and the kerchief was its alphabet.
Based on how they handled their little squares of perfumed linen, they could send messages to suitors across the room: hanging it over the shoulder meant “follow me”, and folding it meant the lady wanted to talk. Traces of this practice still remain, with members of the LGBTQ community wearing coloured bandanas in their back pockets to signal (or “flag”) their sexual preferences to potential partners.
Nineteenth-century coquettes often perfumed their kerchiefs, making them a desirable token from a lover. They also had more practical uses. They could be held over the mouth and nose whenever there were foul odours or contagions in the air, which became a more pressing need as cities became more crowded and polluted places.
While the monied classes were waving their hankies in the air, labourers were putting them to good use, wiping their brows or the backs of their necks to remove sweat or whatever else had accumulated there. Rather than delicate pieces of linen, they used sturdier cotton.
During the American Revolution, Martha Washington had a man named James Hewson design what is generally accepted as the first true bandana. Featuring an image of her husband, George Washington, on horseback, it was an immediately iconic piece of Americana. When American settlers hitched their wagons and headed west, the bandana came along for the ride.
The bandana became a key component of the cowboy kit. Worn over the nose and mouth, it could filter out trail dust, and when the sun was at its peak, it could be turned around to cover the back of the neck.
When the wind was blowing, it could be used to tie down one’s hat, and when it was snowing, it could be worn over the ears to prevent frostbite or over the eyes to prevent snow blindness. You could hobble a horse and tie a hog, or you could use it as a washcloth or as an oven mitt.
The bandana remained a staple for hard-working men and women in the twentieth century. In the 1910s and early 1920s, Appalachian coal miners were fighting for workers’ rights—a struggle that culminated in an armed standoff in 1921. The Battle of Blair Mountain was the biggest armed uprising in the US since the Civil War, and those on the labour side marked their solidarity with a red bandana tied around the neck.
They were not the first rednecks, but they were the first to seize the epithet and wear it proudly as a badge of honour and solidarity. The red square of cotton remained a fixture in graphic representations of workers throughout the first half of the century.
During WWII, Rosie the Riveter wore a red polka dot bandana to hold back her hair (common practice in the wartime factories). Any time Americans were encouraged to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of nation-building or defending, the bandana often made at least a cameo appearance.
Since then, the knot has only grown tighter. The bandana is a proud emblem of rugged masculine style. Whether your workwear style walks right down main street or veers off down modern or vintage alleys, the bandana will fit right in.
Whether worn in the back pocket like a grease monkey or around the neck like a cowboy, it’s a sharp addition to any kit and a worthy investment at any price.
Well-Made Bandanas Are Adaptable
If you need a mask, a carry-all, a rope, or a rag, the bandana will fit the bill. The list of its practical uses could stretch from one end of the Appalachian Trail to the other. We’re chiefly interested in its fashionable uses, though, so let’s look at those.
Though the bandana can be tied to just about anything (I’ve got one wrapped around the headstock of my guitar and another hanging off my overnight bag), it does its most fashionable work when it’s worn in either the back pocket or around the neck.
When the bandana is wrapped into a rope-like shape and knotted around the neck, it can be worn with just about anything from tees to blazers. How we wrap it, though, is important.
Style tip: How to (properly) tie your bandana
Common practice (as we can see in the picture above) is to fold the bandana into a triangle, take the two opposite corners in hand, and give the whole thing a spin until it looks rope-ish. I’ve never found this method satisfactory. You have to continually re-tie it throughout the day to keep it looking neat.
Here’s how you can avoid that:
Start as before by folding the bandana into a triangle. Starting from the apex of the triangle, roll the bandana towards its longest edge. This will keep the bandana from unravelling.
Start like this:
You can skip the rolling process entirely and just wear it with the triangle facing towards the front. Tuck it inside a buttoned shirt for that ascot look, or leave it hanging out for a more rugged western look.
If you don’t feel like knotting it around your neck, it can also be worn in the back pocket. You can fold it if you want to keep things neat, but if you want a touch of that greasy garage-wear style, just stuff the bandana into your pocket any old way.
Bring some colour back into your faded denim with a back pocket bandana (the photo of Two Ears bandana on the right is courtesy of James Dant).
One more tip: If you’re going to let a significant amount of the bandana hang out of your pocket, use a small safety pin to fasten the bandana to the inside of your pocket. If you’ve invested in a well-made bandana (and we think you should), the last thing you want is to have it turn into somebody else’s found treasure.
How to Identify a Well-Made Bandana
How to tell whether a bandana is well-made or not comes down to how it looks and feels. Normally we would explore the construction and the hallmarks of quality in this section, but the bandana is such a simple accessory that we can jog through the marks of quality.
What It’s Made of, How it’s Made, and Why it’s made
As a minimum, you can expect bandanas to be 100% cotton. This is a low bar to clear, and all of the makers on this list do so without breaking a sweat. Some of the best makers offer selvedge bandanas, which have a barely noticeable selvedge line on one or two edges (you can see that line on the Kapital Selvedge Bandana pictured below). The edges that are not selvedge will be folded and stitched.
One of the few places you can check the quality of the work is the corners. Has it been stitched together hastily, or is it clean and precise work? If you’re paying for well-made, it’s fair to expect nothing short of perfection.
Hand feel is an excellent guide here. If you like the look of the bandana, pick it up and rub the material between your fingers. Is it soft and supple? That’s a sure sign that the maker has gone out of their way to source top-grade cotton for their bandana. If it feels crisp or papery, mosey on to the next one.
Some well-made bandanas are deeply saturated in colour and could block out the sun on a cloudless day. Others are given a gentler dye treatment and are almost transparent. One isn’t better than the other, it’s just a matter of the maker’s purpose and your preference.
Finally, a well-made bandana, when unfolded and laid flat, should communicate something to you. It might tell a story, or it might evoke some far-away time and place or something nearer and dearer.
Great makers produce bandanas with this kind of intention. The bandana is their canvas, and, like all artists, they want their story to be understood and their work to be appreciated.
When considering your choices, trust your instincts. If you’re ever in doubt, check the label. If it’s a bandana made by any of the makers we highlight below, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Go ahead, tie the knot.
12 Well-Made and Essential Bandanas
We’ve assembled the denimhead’s dozen: Twelve well-made bandanas that will make your day every time you throw them in your pocket or around your neck.
Two Ears Liberty Selvedge Bandana – Turkey Red
We’re leading off with Two Ears because, for our money, they’re the best bandana maker out there right now. The brand started quite recently, but their turkey red bandanas became immediately iconic, and those who stock them have trouble keeping the red ones on the shelf. If you see one, just grab it.
The brand started with an aim to reproduce late-nineteenth-century bandanas, but it quickly became much more than that. Rather than simply producing stitch-for-stitch vintage reproductions, Two Ears outdid the originals. Every serious collector should have at least one of them in their collection.
- 100% cotton
- Made in Japan
- Two-sided selvedge
- 50cm x 50cm
- Expect some shrinkage
Other Two Ears bandanas to consider: The Liberty Selvedge Bandana is also available in Iridium (Black), and there is also the oversized Sincerity Bandana (90cm x 90cm in ginkgo gold), and the Marvel Verte Selvedge Bandana (in pale green). Keep your eyes peeled for the stunning Turkey Red Marvel Bandana (they always sell out fast!).
Sonder Supplies ship from the US. If they are sold out, or if you’re looking for other places to buy Two Ears bandanas, try: Two Ears Brand (Japan), James Dant (USA), Pancho & Lefty (Sweden), and Barnstormer (Japan).
If you’re on the conservative end of the fashion spectrum (and a lot of us are), Kapital pieces might be a little out there for your tastes. The brand is driven by an artistic spirit that goes its own way. If that spirit speaks to you, their catalogue brims with cutting-edge pieces that draw upon the long history of Japanese textile arts.
Kapital’s bandanas are a great opportunity to dip a toe in the brand’s pool without getting soaking wet. The cotton is incredibly soft, and the designs frequently utilise slightly muted colours. Even when brand new, the bandanas look and feel like vintage pieces.
The Concho bandana draws on Southwest motifs and a delicate balance of white and turquoise. The pink selvedge line gives an already perfect piece the perfect finishing touch.
- 100% cotton
- Made in Japan
- Pink selvedge edge
- Other edges stitched
- Southwest-inspired design
- 57cm x 57cm
Stag Provisions ships from the US. If they’re sold out or if you’re looking for other places to buy Kapital bandanas, try: Kapital (Japanese webshop), Kafka Mercantile (UK), Standard and Strange (USA), and Blue Button Shop (Canada).
This bandana—another piece dripping with Southwestern Americana influences—comes from Scarti Lab. The Italian label defines itself as a band, not a brand, and you can feel a sense of playfulness in their garments. It’s a group of artists allowing their passions to turn their heads—now in this direction, now in that.
Their collections are steeped in the truest blue of the vintage workwear styles, and their bandanas are no exception. You can feel their love of vintage Americana on every inch of its surface, and the subtle blending of vibrant blue and red with the cream background makes this piece the perfect topper for even the most dapper kit.
- 100% cotton
- Made in Italy
- Native American motif
- 55cm x 55cm
We promised to highlight bandanas where West and East collide, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Kiroko’s split bandanas. The geometric printed half of the bandana is from Japan, and the side with the subtle red touches is American. The result is a bandana that doubles your fun and your pleasure.
The bandana can be worn bandit style (as below) so that the two fabrics meet in the middle, or it can be folded along the split so you can choose which fabric you want to wear facing outwards. We prefer it wrapped like in the picture above, which allows the two fabrics to play off each other.
- 100% cotton
- Sewn in Portland, Oregon
- 51cm x 51cm
We love the split bandanas in any colour, but this is by no means all they offer. They also have the beautiful Indigo Tonbo (deep indigo with splashes of red), the Indigo Yagasuri (fathomless blue), and the Indigo Kumogakure (a design as Japanese as they come).
Kiriko ship from the US. If you’re looking for other places to buy Kiriko bandanas, try: Manready Mercantile (USA)
We’ve highlighted Ginew’s jaw-dropping pieces on other WME lists, and we always knew that we’d return to them for this piece. America’s only Native-owned and operated selvedge brand brings all of their vigour to their bandanas, and the passion can be felt and read in every inch.
It was hard to settle on a favourite, but we’ve gone with the Navy Thunderbird, an unbelievably soft offering that was woven in Japan. The design, like everything else Ginew does, is bold and confident, but it doesn’t shout. It’s just quietly dignified and utterly perfect.
Other Ginew bandanas to consider: Forward Movement (our second-favourite), Red Thunderbird (the same, but in a vibrant red), Club Bandana (reminiscent of vintage car club designs), and the Gold Buffalo (Ginew’s iconic buffalo in all its glory).
Ginew ship from the US. If you’re looking for other places to buy Ginew products, try Made Here (USA) and Göteborg Manufaktur (Sweden).
Real McCoy’s often sits at the top or near the top in a lot of categories—price being one of them. Their bandanas are a great opportunity to add a Real McCoy’s piece into the rotation without spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars. In other words, you can tie up that bindle without dropping a bundle.
They’re leaning hard into the winds of naval history with this red white and blue piece. It might be a little too little sailor boy for some, but for the lover of the seagoing men in blue, this drops anchor and then some.
Real McCoy’s only has one other bandana. You can find their Red Eight-Hour Union Bandana on their Japanese web-shop.
Iron Heart don’t try to break the mould with their bandanas. They bring the same approach to the handy cotton squares that they bring to all of their pieces. They put something in their sights, give it their subtle trademark twist, and then pull the trigger. Without fail, they deliver something that hits the market square between the eyes.
Their discharge-printed paisley bandanas come in a wide range of colours (though they sell out quickly), and they’ll more than satisfy you if you’re looking for a classic and exceptionally well-made selvedge bandana.
- 100% cotton
- Made in Japan
- Selvedge (three stitched edges)
- Discharge printed
- 49cm x 49cm
Iron Heart’s other bandanas are all extinct, but it’s a virtual certainty that they’ll mix it up with new variations on the theme, so watch their website.
Iron Heart ship from the US and the UK. If you’re looking for other places to buy Iron Heart, try: Franklin & Poe (USA), Corlection (AUS), Self Edge (US), Brund (Denmark), Iron Heart Germany (Germany), and Statement (Germany).
Blackways Iconic Bandana
Sweden’s Blackways started small. They wanted a very particular shirt, and they couldn’t find a maker who could tick all their boxes. They decided to just go ahead and make it themselves, and they produced a few extra to sell.
The brand took off like a rocket, and they were soon collaborating with top-shelf brands like Indigofera.
Their graphic designs put them in their own category. They’re at their most striking when they combine heavy grey and black tones. That’s what they’ve done with their bandana, which repurposes the lightning and thrown-rider design from their most stunning collaboration (a wool blanket they designed for Indigofera).
- 100% cotton
- Made in Sweden
- Screen printed by hand
- Also available in white
- 50cm x 52cm
The only other bandana Blackways currently offers is their Black Chainstitch Bandana (plain black with “Blackways” chain stitch).
Blackways ships from Sweden. If you’re looking for other places to buy Blackways, try: Black & Blue (Netherlands), Råh (Denmark), Göteborg Manufaktur (Sweden)
Imogen + Willie Rider’s West Bandana
The small brand that started in the back of a rural gas station has a few incredible pieces both under and over their belts, and they seem to really lean into the bandana game. In terms of well-made bandanas, there’s not a brand out there that gives you a broader selection.
Making our choices for the rest of the list was a cinch, but I+W have so many great bandanas to pick from. We settled on gorgeous Western design in cream and black, but don’t let us push you in any particular direction. Take a look at all of them. One’s sure to strike your fancy.
- 100% cotton
- Made in the USA
- Screen printed
- Can be customised with chainstitch embroidery
- 53cm x 53cm
Other Imogen + Willie bandanas to consider: We’re also fans of the Lost Time (black and cream with skulls), the Oasis Rose (muted indigo), the Rose in Paradise (vibrant red and cream), and the Vintage Rust (dusty orange).
Imogen + Willie ship from the US. If you’re looking for other places to buy Imogen + Willie, try: Stag Provisions (USA).
RedRoad Bandanas are dedicated to leaving a soft footprint wherever they go, and their output (dozens of beautiful hand-printed bandanas) more than live up to this goal. Everything from the fabric to the packaging has been carefully considered in terms of its impact, both on the environment and on human communities.
No matter what your preference, you can find one of their butter-soft pieces that speaks to you. For us, it’s their Chickory bandana in red. They’ve struck a beautiful balance between the reds and blues, and they’ve chosen dyes that give this piece a vintage character that looks like it’s mellowed in the sun for a few seasons.
- 100% organic cotton
- Plant-based dyes
- Traditional Indian block print
- Imperfections and variations throughout
- 74cm x 74cm
Stag Provisions ships for the US. If you’re looking for other places to buy RedRoad bandanas, try: Halo & Swan (USA).
Warehouse Mosaic Selvedge Bandana – Navy
Warehouse does modern takes on vintage forms as well as anybody, and it’s no surprise that the Japanese brand has managed to fuse something old, something new, and something blue in this visually stunning bandana.
The selvedge bandana is rolled and stitched on three sides, and, like everything else that Warehouse makes, it’s built to last and made to fade. It’s an elegant shade of navy with a visually stimulating design that draws the eye closer. It’s the perfect pocket companion.
- 100% cotton
- Made in Japan
- Stitched on three sides
- 58cm x 55cm
Other Warehouse bandanas to consider: Warehouse also makes their Mosaic Selvedge Bandana in Red and they also have a Double Circle Selvedge Bandana in Navy (with strong ladies scarf vibes).
Statement ships from Germany. If they’re sold out, or if you’re looking for other places to buy Warehouse, try: Clutch Café (UK), Son of a Stag (UK), Blue Owl (USA), and Warehouse (Japanese web-shop).
We’ll close out this list with a piece that has all the visual hallmarks of a bandana, but the similarities are only superficial. Lay your hands on it and it’s immediately clear that this is a fashion accessory—about as far from an all-purpose cotton rag as you can get.
Engineered Garments founder Daiki Suzuki has a lifelong obsession with rugged American style, and that love is clear in every piece the brand engineers, but the brand merely draws inspiration from the past. It’s pieces are thoroughly modern, and they all tilt slightly away from the functional and towards the fashionable.
Their neckerchief is perfect for those who prefer the soft to the rough, the delicate to the rugged. We won’t recommend you use it to wipe the sweat off your brow or the engine grease off your fingers, but we wholeheartedly recommend it for those who want to bring a touch of luxury to their workwear kits.
The Paisley Neckerchief is currently the only bandana that Engineered Garments make.
Lost & Found ships from Canada. If they’re sold out, or if you’re looking for other places to buy Engineered Garments, try: Nepenthes London (UK), Nepenthes New York (USA), and Big Trouble (Australia).
Tie a Knot in Your Well-Made Kit
Bandanas are a great accessory—an absolutely essential part of a well-made kit. For best results, pair your bandana with a well-made pair of raw selvedge jeans and a heritage work shirt. They can also work very nicely when paired with a heavy denim western shirt or a raw denim jacket.