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Bandanas in a rear pocket. The one seen here on a statue of Paul Bunyan, have mainstream usage and are not exclusive to LGBT, leather and kink communities.

Handkerchief code or hanky code (also known as bandana code and flagging) is a way of indicating, usually among gay male casual sex-seekers or BDSM practitioners in the leather subculture in the United States, Canada and Europe, whether they are a top or bottom, and what kind of sex they are seeking, by wearing color-coded handkerchiefs (bandanas), usually in the back pocket. The hanky code was widely used in the 1970s as a "secret" gay code that was intended to go unnoticed by non-gays, but general awareness of the code has gone increasingly mainstream.[1]

There is no universally-recognized, "official" color code, and regional variants of the code exist. However, there is widespread consensus on the meanings of a handful of colors, based on decades of precedent in the gay communities of many different countries -- such as yellow for watersports; red for fisting; and black for SM. Also, generally speaking, it is understood that a hanky displayed in the left-side pocket signifies a preference for taking the "top" or "dominant" or "Master" role, while the right side represents the "bottom" or "submissive" or "slave" role.

Today the bandanas are worn almost exclusively in the rear trouser pocket, on the left side of the body for tops and on the right for bottoms, just as tops wear their keys on the left belt loop and bottoms on the right. In the past bandanas were also worn tied around the neck (with the knot positioned on either the left or right side); around the ankle (when wearing boots or when undressed); hung from the left or right side of the belt, or on other parts of the body.



The wearing of various colored bandanas around the neck was common in the mid- and late-nineteenth century among cowboys, steam railroad engineers, and miners in the Western United States. It is thought that the wearing of bandanas by gay men originated in San Francisco after the Gold Rush, when, because of a shortage of women, men dancing with each other in square dances developed a code wherein the man wearing the blue bandana took the male part in the square dance, and the man wearing the red bandana took the female part (these bandanas were usually worn around the arm or hanging from the belt or in the back pocket of one's jeans). [2] It is believed by some that the modern Hanky Code started in New York City in about 1970 when a journalist for the Village Voice joked that instead of simply wearing keys to indicate whether someone was a "top" or a "bottom", it would be more efficient to subtly announce their particular sexual focus by wearing different colored hankies.

In popular culture

  • A character on Rescue Me was approached by several gay men after appearing in an FDNY calendar where he unwittingly wore a yellow bandana in his pocket while dressed as a cowboy.
  • Aaron North, a past guitarist for Nine Inch Nails, is well known for wearing a red bandana in his pocket during concerts. However, given North's on-stage antics, it's probably more of a reference to NIN's Wish, in which fist fuck are part of the lyrics.
  • Peaches, the female, German-Canadian, electroclash musician, has a song entitled "Hanky Code" in which she spells out the hanky code tradition and various colors and their meanings.
  • Al Pacino's character in the 1980 movie Cruising is criticized for wearing the wrong color handkerchief while trying to blend-in in a gay bar.


Color Meaning Practice
     Black SM Indicates the wearer's interest in hardcore SM play, especially whipping.[citation needed]
     Red Anal fisting Left pocket: Insertive partner. Right pocket: Receptive partner.[citation needed]
     Yellow Watersports Urinating on (left), or being urinated upon by (right), another person[citation needed]
     Grey Bondage Play involving ropes, handcuffs, or other restraints that limit the bottom's ability to move.[citation needed]
     White Mutual masturbation[citation needed]
     Light blue Oral sex Wearing it in the left back pocket or on the left side indicates willingness to receive fellatio. Wearing it in the right back pocket or on the right side indicates desire to perform fellatio.[citation needed]
     Navy Blue Anal sex Wearing it in the left back pocket or on the left side indicates a preference to be the insertive partner (the "top" or "pitcher") during anal intercourse. Wearing it in the right back pocket or on the right side indicates a preference to be in the receptive role (the "bottom" or "catcher").[citation needed]
     Pink (Light Pink) Dildos
     Charcoal Latex, PVC, or Rubber Fetish [3]
     Medium Blue Uniform fetish Police uniforms or uniforms worn by other authority figures
     Teal Cock and ball torture
     Khaki Military Sex (Uniform fetish) Likes wearing military uniforms
     Olive drab Military person [4] Left: A military top; Right: a military bottom
     Kelly green sex for money Left: a male prostitute; right: a john (someone looking for a prostitute)
     Hunter green Daddy/boy sex[citation needed] Looking for a boy (left) or looking for a daddy (right)
     Brown Scat[citation needed]
     Burnt umber Extreme sex Extreme sex such as branding; or sex that is taboo even among most people in the leather subculture, e.g. , pederasty or bestiality. [5]
     Orange Few limits When worn on the left, orange indicates that the wearer will top in relatively any fetish, anytime, anywhere. Conversely, when orange is worn on the right, it can indicate either the wearer will bottom in relatively any fetish, anytime, anywhere or can indicate "just looking, no play".[citation needed]
     Robin Egg Blue (Pale Robin Egg Blue) 69 69 top (left); 69 bottom (right)
     Deep Aqua (Printer's Cyan) Aquaphilia Having sex in water, such as in a bathtub, shower or swimming pool
     Lime Sitophilia Eating food off someone's body or having food eaten off one's body
     Chamoise Motorcycle sex Indicates the wearer is looking for sex involving a motorcycle as a prop, or involving one or more bikers in the sexual activities.
     Mauve Navel fetish
     Dark Pink Tit torture
     Magenta (Printer’s Magenta) Armpits Left: likes armpits licked; right: likes to lick armpits[citation needed]
     Fuchsia Spanking Wants to spank (left); wants to be spanked (right)
     Purple (HTML/CSS color) [6] Piercings Actually piercing someone (left) or actually being pierced by someone (right) as an erotic stimulation; or one who has piercings (left) or one who desires someone with piercings (right)
     Lavender (Bright Lavender) Cross dressing / Gender play
     Coral Foot fetishism Wants feet licked (left); wants to lick feet (right)[citation needed]
     Mustard (Gold Ochre)[7] Size queen
     Gold (Golden) Ménage à trois Two looking for one (left) or one looking for two (right)
     Apricot Chubby chaser
     Peach Bear or cub who is interested in sex with another bear or cub
     Light yellow Spitting Left—wants to spit on partner during sex; right—wants to be spat upon during sex
     Beige (Desert Sand) [8] Rimming Anal-oral contact
     Tan Cigar play Left—want to smoke a cigar while having sex; right—wants someone who smokes cigars while having sex (may also include the insertion of a cigar into various bodily orifices (see Monica Lewinsky scandal))
     Rust Ponyism [9]
     Dark red Two-handed Anal fisting[10]
Camouflage.svg Camouflage Rugged outdoorsman Having sex outdoors in the country (such as when going camping)
Greengingham.jpg Gingham Urban outdoorsman Having sex in city parks
PinkArgyle.svg Argyle Geeks A geek or nerd (left) or interested in geeks or nerds (right)[11]
Wheat 2641t.jpg Doily (an actual doily, not a bandana with a doily pattern) Tearoom trade Likes to have sex in public lavatories
     Gold (metallic gold) lamé Muscle sex Left--is a bodybuilder; right--looking for sex with a bodybuilder
     Silver (metallic silver) lamé Starfucker Left--is a rock star or male groupie; right--looking for sex with a rock star or male groupie
Black leather bandana Leather fetish
Black velvet bandana Videotaping Likes to make videotapes of the act while having sex (left); likes to be videotaped (right) (See amateur pornography)[12]
Gray flannel bandana Suit and tie fetish Left--Likes to have sex while wearing a suit and tie; right--likes to have sex with someone who is wearing a suit and tie.
Hundtandsrutor.png Houndstooth Biting Likes to bite (Left) or likes to be bitten (right)
Checkerboard pattern.svg Black and white checkerboard pattern Safe sex e.g., frottage, or mutual masturbation or striptease in front of mirrors[13]

See also


  1. ^ Simon Gage, Lisa Richards, Howard Wilmot Queer New York:2002--Unanimous Ltd ISBN 1-56025-377-0 Page 82
  2. ^ Susan Stryker and Jim Van Buskirk Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area San Francisco:1996--Chronicle Books ISBN 0-8118-1187-5 Page 18
  3. ^ The color charcoal was chosen because dark-gray rubber was formerly the most common material associated with this fetish. Although rubber is still used, today PVC and latex are more commonly used for this fetish.
  4. ^ A "Military person" means someone who is actually in the military but is wearing mufti so they have to signal that they are in the military by wearing an olive drab bandana.
  5. ^ This bandana color is very seldom seen actually being worn.
  6. ^ The shade of purple used for the purple bandana is the shade now known as HTML/CSS Purple, even though of course the bandana code was invented long before web colors.
  7. ^ The color called mustard in the bandana code is identical to the color called goldenrod in Wikipedia (the color called mustard in Wikipedia is much lighter than the mustard colored bandana).
  8. ^ The color called beige in the bandana code is identical to the color called desert sand in Wikipedia (It is common for those in the baby boom generation to mistakenly think of beige as being the color desert sand because in the 1960s, AT&T marketed a colored telephone for offices and homes in a color they called "beige" which was actually the color desert sand.).
  9. ^ This fetish is usually described as "a cowboy and his horse" on the cards listing the meanings of the colors of the bandana code that are given out at leather stores.
  10. ^ If someone has small hands with long fingers, it is possible to insert two hands at once while fisting someone.
  11. ^ This pattern first came into use about the year 1998 with the rise of geek culture during the dot-com era.
  12. ^ This bandana did not come into use until about the year 2000, when inexpensive video cameras became widely available.
  13. ^ This bandana pattern came into use in 1983 as a response to the AIDS crisis.

Further reading

  • Jacques, Trevor On the Safe Edge: A Manual for SM Play (ISBN 1-895857-05-8)
  • Townsend, Larry The Leatherman's Handbook 1972 (First Edition)

External links

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