Have you ever heard of the hanky code? This system of communication through different colored bandanas, or “hankies,” has been a part of the gay community for decades, signaling sexual preferences and fetishes.
How Bandanas Were Used To Find Partners
Handkerchiefs were placed in back pockets, a covert way of finding sexual partners during a time when gay men could not be open about their sex lives, or where it was even illegal to be gay. Through the color of the hanky and the pocket it was placed in, users could convey what kind of sexual activities they wanted to engage in and how they would take place.
Wearing colored bandanas has been a part of men’s wardrobes since the mid-nineteenth century, primarily used by cowboys, railroad workers, and miners. It is thought that the bandanas became part of the gay community in San Francisco after the Gold Rush. The shortage of women at the time led to men dancing with other men at square dances. A man with a blue bandana would take the male lead during the dance, while one with a red bandana danced the female part.
Where Did It Originate?
The modern hanky code is believed to have begun around 1970 in New York City. A journalist for the Village Voice joked that instead of wearing a set of keys on one side or the other (an underground code at the time to indicate sexual preference), colored handkerchiefs would be more efficient.
Other sources credit the code to marketing done by The Trading Post, an erotic merchandise department store, in 1971. The store promoted colored bandanas by printing cards listing the various meanings of each color.
Alan Selby, founder of Mr. S Leather in San Francisco, claims that he created the first hanky code alongside business partners at Leather ‘n’ Things in 1972. The store’s supplier accidentally doubled their order of colored bandanas and Selby and his partners concocted the code in an effort to get rid of the excess stock.
There is no single standard for the code, with color meanings varying from list to list. Some lists assign a sexual fetish to a handful of colors, while others are much longer and more detailed.
While the hanky code was once a popular system for finding prospective sexual partners, the internet and a more tolerant society have made it largely obsolete. Along with streamlining the process of finding someone sexually compatible, the internet is much safer, eliminating harassment and violence that gay men face. However, many still wear and carry colored hankies in honor of the hanky code.