Avid backpackers have a vibe about them. Habitually curious, invariably attentive and unfailingly mobile, it’s easy to spot them amidst a cohort of people. Apart from the intrinsic qualities that unite their brethren, an emerging wave of traveller’s fashion is fast-becoming a key to differentiate them from other tourists. Under the spotlight today are bandanas, a fashion item that isn’t unique to the backpackers, but remind us of them as soon as we see them.

Bandana and its origin

For a simple piece of clothing, Bandanas have had quite a journey. Touted as a ‘must-have’, bandana fits just the right criteria for it to be a backpackers’ favourite – easy to wear, light to carry and an item of great utility. But where did the Bandana start its journey from? Was it when John Hewson, a textile artist, who was born in England and later shifted to America, gifted a bandana, believed to be the first in America, with an image of a general on the horseback to George and Martha Washington? The word Bandana is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Badhnati’, which means a form of tie-dying. Tie-dying is an ancient Indian craft – evidence dating it back to as early as 4000 B.C – popularised in the rest of the world years later. It was introduced to England by seafarers and bandits. From England John Hewson took it to America where it was to become rage in the years that were to follow.

Bandana and its changing utility with times

Bandanas have had a long journey before they made their way into a traveller’s backpack. In the 19th century, Bandanas had a functional utility. During World Wars 1 and II, Bandanas were used to communicate secret messages by drawing patters on them. Soldiers fighting in the wars would carry bandanas imprinted with personalised messages from their loved ones, and in event of their death, these will be returned by authorities after printing messages of gratitude for the soldier’s service. They, then, entered the boxing arenas where the bandanas tied to each boxer’s hand will help the referee count the punches landed by each boxer. The farmers and miners would use bandanas to wipe off sweat and pack food.

Bandanas were also used as symbols to address the issue of gay rights. Politicians used bandanas as posters for effective campaigning.

From 20th century onward, Bandanas were recognised as fashion accessories, and were widely used by musicians, actors as well as sportsmen. High-class fashionable women used them for daily styling, and often while travelling. Several movies depicted cowboys wearing bandanas as neckerchiefs. Fans would get autographed bandanas from movie stars. Bandanas became popular as hobo bags amidst women, who would also use them to tie their hair back, a style that would later become a signature for travellers around the world.

Bandana and travellers today

Travellers of today swear by their bandanas for their ability to come handy in a range of situations. The fact that they are lightweight, on the pocket also, makes them one of the most valued possessions of every backpacker or traveller who is out there for adventure. Bandanas are used as sweat mops while hiking and walking; wash clothes at hostels and hotels that don’t provide traditional cover-ups; cooling agents after dipping in water when the temperatures get too high; bandages in events of minor injuries, extra pockets to store things after folding the bandana at edges; luggage identifiers at the airports and more commonly as masks and scarves. Besides, bandanas are available in a range of patterns and colours and they go with almost everything that you wear.

Bandanas also lend a unique appearance to the backpackers, one that helps them spot other people from their own brethren. Locals at many places identify tourists with their bandanas and welcome them to their culture, home and hearts.

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