How to Wear a Bandana When You’re Not Covering Your Face

It might be simple square of fabric cloth, but the bandana has had a major impact on American culture. Cowboys wore them for dust protection, musicians wore them for badass flair, and even the LGBTQ+ community wore them as a secret code language. Every man might own a necktie, but few choose to wear them outside formal occasions. The bandana’s appeal has always been niche, but these characters in society openly embraced the cloth, giving it far greater significance.

Now, in a pandemic world of uncertainty, the bandana has had this major resurgence as a face covering for the masses, even though it’s been recently proven to be less effective than a face mask. But there’s much more to the trend. From the Instagram accounts of high-profile tastemakers like Drake, to the Spring/ Summer 2020 runway shows of some of the biggest names in fashion, including Dolce & Gabana, Versace, and Hermes; the bandana is truly everywhere (and not just for covering one’s face). So, what’s it all about?

“The bandana is a great accessory piece, but also it’s functional; you can throw it in your back pocket and you can also use it as a styling piece,” says Whitney Michel, Creative Director of Michel Men, an accessories line that’s been worn by the stylish leading men of Hollywood, including Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine. “When I came to the idea of creating bandanas, I initially made them with cotton, but I wanted to elevate it—how can you make it feel softer, how can you move past that paisley version of the old school American bandana? That’s when I started diving into soft silks and placing monograms on it so that it still feels masculine—whatever ‘masculine’ means now—but also has a bit ore personality to it.”

Bandanas have come a long way since the paisley-printed cotton classic. Cool geometric designs add a graphic twist to your simple white tees, while a silky texture adds an elevated accent to your ordinary suit for standout style. And yes, men can—and should—wear silk. The rich fabric has been embraced by a number of trend-setting designers for it’s louche charm, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“Western-style has been a recurring trend in the last few years, but I do feel it’s at its peak at the moment—it’s everywhere and bandanas compliment that style and aesthetic perfectly,” says style influencer Christian Bendek who’s embraced the trend. “I usually add it on as an accessory. Either I adjust it to my head as a face cover and let it hang on my neck, or I fold it and wrap it around my neck, kind of like a necklace. I’ve been doing both a lot lately and it’s great to layer with jewelry, too.”

christian bendek
Influencer Christian Bendek

Christian Bendek

The small-yet-mighty piece of cloth allows men to accessorize in a new, fresh way to showcase more of their personality, beyond the limitations of a minimalist watch or necklace.

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“I feel like there are no rules now when it comes to menswear,” says Michel. “When I think back to bandanas in the ‘90s and I think of Tupac, it meant something specific to wear a red bandana, but now we’re in a place where men can do whatever they want and they’re able to determine their own sense of self without being limited to how they fit in a specific category of style. A bandana allows men to express their individuality and push whatever norms have been placed on them.”

Iconic style savants like Jimmy Hendrix and Mick Jagger were fabric mix masters with confidence and charisma that gave garish garb a gloss of coolness that most men wouldn’t dare try to emulate. But we’re living in a new day, one where you control the volume on your style to compliment your originality. Fear shouldn’t be a factor.

christian bendek
Influencer Christian Bendek wearing a Stella McCartney bandana.

Christian Bendek

Whether you opt for a fresh take on the OG paisley design—another growing trend embraced by Kanye West and ASAP Rocky on all types of garments—or embrace an artsy alternative, choose a print that speaks to your personal style. If you’re just looking to experiment with your summer style, an affordable cotton style is best, and if your game to spurge, look for a quality silk bandana that you’ll use for years to come that can double as a pocket square.

To get the most value out of your stylish bandana, there are a number of ways to incorporate the accessory into your everyday looks, from a subtle accent to your go-to watch, to some added interest to your T-shirt neckline. Wear a bandana as a headband, as an added layer over your face mask, or let it hang loose from your back pocket—you really can’t go wrong.

“I don’t think the bandana trend is going anywhere, anytime soon,” says Bendek. “Until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, we’ll need to continue to cover our faces. I think it’s a more fashionable approach to covering your face, rather than just wearing a generic fabric face mask.”

How to Wear a Bandana

The Headband That Holds Back Your Quarantine Coif

retro for b springsteens 25 year career photo by brooks kraft llcsygma via getty images
Bruce Springsteen

Brooks Kraft

Think like “The Boss”. Folding a classic bandana into a headband still reads cool with a simple white tee or summer tank. It’s an easy way to make your look a bit edgy—but whatever you do, don’t describe it as “edgy”.

The Easy-On-Easy-Off Protection Approach

new york, ny june 12 johannes huebl is seen on june 12, 2020 in new york city photo by jose perezbauer griffingc images
Model Johannes Huebl wearing a bandana over a face mask in New York City.

Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin

Again, we wouldn’t recommend just wearing the bandana to cover your face without a mask, but the bandana can be a stylish top layer to your affordable face mask when folded and tied at the back of your neck. Why purchase a bunch of printed face masks when you can opt for this versatile, budget-friendly solution?

The Cool Dude Tie

london, england february 17 tyler, the creator attends the renell medrano and wepresent opening preview of pampara photographic exhibition on february 17, 2020 in london, england photo by david m benettdave benettgetty images for renell medrano wetransfer
Tyler, the Creator

Getty/ David M. Benett

You know this look, you’ve admired this look, but maybe you never thought you could actually try this look. It’s way easier to achieve than you might think; just fold your bandana into a triangle, roll it, and tie it around your neck. Whether you’re wearing a suit, concert tee, or heck, even a trash bag, this subtle neck detail instantly takes your style to the next level. It’s a little fancy, a little artistic, and all around cool. Best of all, it requires very little attention after tying—no muss, no fuss.

Your New Wrist Game All-Star

milan, italy june 18 a guest wearing a black adidas cap, bandana around his arm, blue button shirt is seen outside msgm during milan mens fashion week springsummer 2018 on june 18, 2017 in milan, italy photo by christian vieriggetty images

Getty/ Christian Vierig

It’s like a bracelet, but a bit bolder and more unique. Michel says she’s seen men wear bandanas around their wrist a lot more recently, both solo and as a cool timepiece accent. She recommends pairing your bandana with a minimalist watch, like one of the chic styles from Uniform Wares. Watch or no watch, you’ll be surprised how useful it is to have a bandana on hand—or should we say, on wrist.

Senior Style and Gear Editor Adam is the Senior Style and Gear Editor, overseeing grooming, gear, and fashion content on menshealth.com.

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