The bandana these days has taken on new life over the past year and change. The humble and hard-working bandana went from a Western staple prized for its utility and worn famously onscreen by Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, and instead took its rightful place as a true do-it-all, everyday essential – namely, as a substitute face covering in places far beyond the Wild West. We’ll focus right now, though, on the true functionality of a bandana, which sits squarely in the intersection of rugged appeal and eye-catching style.
Bandanas really are a jack of all trades, used as kerchiefs and pocket squares and head coverings, to name but a few.
Speaking of beyond the Wild West, a bandana is as all-American an accessory as they come, at least in recent history: Spot how cool rocker Bruce Springsteen looks rocking denim and a red bandana. It’s also an accessory of note for modern-day renegades, like the always-cool Ryan Gosling in sleeper flick The Place Beyond The Pines (give it a watch, folks). Before you can appreciate its style on the big screen and off, it’s best to appreciate the utility of a dependable men’s bandana, to go along with its history. School’s in session, folks.
Bandanas really are a jack of all trades, used as kerchiefs and pocket squares and head coverings, to name but a few. Use a men’s bandana to shield your face from the sun, use it as a grease rag (while keeping an extra one handy for your face), or use it as a makeshift bandage if things get really gnarly. Fear not, though: A great men’s bandana can tackle each of these functions, and then some. Any time you find yourself in the field, under the sun at a music festival or trekking through mile after mile on a grueling hike, you should have at least one bandana with you, whether wrapped around your forehead, covering your mouth or tucked in your pocket.
Think of it like this: If it’s a gritty expedition or a dusty job site, the kind of place where you’d have to wear durable tactical gloves, keep a bandana close at hand. And if it’s the sort of expedition that calls for going off-trail with the best men’s water shoes, a bandana needs to be on your packing list.
What exactly is a bandana, though? Let’s start with some basics. Bandanas, traditionally, are made of a hard-wearing, plain-weave cotton that’s often light and breathable, yet tough (similar in some ways to cotton twill, which is commonly found in chinos, and yet softer and of a lighter weight than even that fabric). The bandana as you’re likely thinking of it also most likely features a paisley print on the cambric cloth – cambric is the name of this type of woven cotton, after all.
Bandanas have appeared everywhere through the years (you already saw two examples of the stage and screen), and if you look closely enough, you might start spotting them more places than you previously thought. Out on the hiking trail or on the open road, in the back pocket of the trusted mechanic at your local bike shop, perhaps floating around your dad’s tool bag (or your own tool bag) as a multi-purpose, everyday essential.
It helps that a piece can establish itself as both downright useful and yet cool at the same time, in similar fashion to, say, hard-wearing combat boots or a field jacket. In fact, you know what goes well with both of those items (besides blue denim and a white tee)? You guessed it: A cool-as-heck bandana for just about any pursuits you can dream up.
And the men’s bandana of both the past and present commonly comes in a striking red color, likely an homage to the way bandanas were first dyed red in locales like Turkey and India, meant to represent political resistance. Yes indeed, the bandana has a storied and varied history, as multi-faceted as any accessory in your wardrobe. That means there are plenty of pitfalls to buying the wrong one. Here’s what you want to keep in mind while looking for a cotton bandana.
How to Shop for a Bandana:
- Look for a color that suits you: This perhaps goes without saying, but a red bandana is the most common form of bandana out there. However, you yourself might want to pick up a bandana in a different color to go with a wider array of pieces. For example, while a red bandana pops nicely against a denim jacket, it doesn’t always work quite that well against colors in the same region of the color wheel. In that case, a black bandana or a navy bandana might be the way to go.
- Know your brands: Although it was first developed overseas, bandanas in this day and age are being made to great effect by all-American brands across the U.S.A Head west to snag a classic Levi’s bandana or a durable number from Buck Mason, for example, or look towards an East Coast retailer like Brooklyn’s Upstate Stock for an option that’s just as hard-wearing and well-made.
- Be willing to invest (a bit): Although it’s but a simple 20-inch by 20-inch cotton cloth, the right bandanas are usually going to run you anywhere from $15 on up for a single cloth, all the better to provide maximum toughness and protection for your face and your dome. Be prepared to spend just a bit more if you want one of higher quality, especially with a USA-made bandana.
Plenty of companies have recognized the effectiveness and timeless, cool style of a bandana. That being said, here are a few of our favorites to amp up your everyday carry.
The Best Men’s Bandanas To Shop Right Now
Buck Mason Hunter Built Tough Bandana
You surely know and love Buck Mason for the truly all-American brand’s perfectly executed T-shirts, durable chambray shirts and just-right faded denim. Add an equally durable Buck Mason bandana to your list, and then use this surprisingly soft cotton bandana as headwear, as a face covering or as a do-everything kerchief for your daily carry. The handy two-pack makes it easy to wear one and carry one, and you can’t help but love the earth-toned shades available in true Buck Mason fashion.
Mister Bandana Black Bandana
Fashioned with a neat “Tahiti Nights” print and yet still built with function in mind, this black bandana is the cool and ever-so-slightly rebellious option if you want to keep the sun off your mug and dust off your face. It helps that it’s inspired by nature and fit to wear on hiking excursions or days under the sun at your local bar patio. Add black jeans and a threadbare white T-shirt, and you’re more than halfway to emulating, say, Gosling or Justin Theroux. In our book, that’s never a bad idea — not in the slightest.
Cantonment Kerchief and Woggle Set
Never heard of a “woggle,” have you? Well, we were in the same boat until we discovered the remarkable blend of tough style and handy utility that a Kerchief and Woggle Set from Cantonment provides. The Cantonment Kerchief, made from super-soft cotton and available in an array of adventurous prints (everything from watch and guitar-inspired designs to automotive parts), is cool enough on its own. Add in the Woggle, a rugged nylon strap that’s not all that different from a nylon watch strap, yet smaller and tougher. Then, you’ve got an EDC essential that can clip onto your bag or your belt loop. Use this as a face covering, wear it as a classic bandana or use the Kerchief and Woggle together as another means of hauling gear or daily carry picks. Just be sure to keep your mind open as to the possibilities of this dependable new must-buy. The best bandana scarves are even more reliable than you thought.
Filson Bison Bandana
Filson pioneered hard-wearing, rough-and-tumble, tough-as-nails style picks for true explorers in the Wild West more than a century ago. They’ve certainly kept up that tradition through the years. You can check that out firsthand via the Filson Bison Bandana, the sort of pick that calls to mind iconic Filson pieces of days gone by. The absorbent, soft 4.7oz. cotton is breathable enough for your head and your face, and this durable men’s bandana can also serve as a neck covering for more protection against the elements. While you’re shopping for this bandana, pick up an iconic Filson shirt or ballcap to round out your summer in style.
Seager x Huckberry Rodeo Bandana
Leave it to Huckberry to stock one of the most rugged and well-made bandanas, all thanks to a nicely timed collaboration with Seager Co. Seager Co. happens to make gear that’s vintage-minded (note the print on this bandana), not to mention laser-focused on craftsmanship. The original graphic, dreamed up in collaboration with Huckberry, is visually striking, and the fact that the entire thing is made in the U.S.A. is a bonus if you appreciate throwback construction and long-lasting wearability. Best of all, you get not one, but two stylish bandanas from this carefully composed partnership.