16 Tips for How to Wear a Bandana on Your Head, Your Bag and Your Dog

Cotton, linen and silk are all options

how to wear a bandana: collage of women wearing bandanas
Illustration by Paula Boudes; Photos-Getty Images: Melodie Jeng (x2), Raimonda Kulikauskiene

What’s a clothing item that’s as American as apple pie but has been embraced around the world by French luxury retailers and Japanese hipsters? It’s the humble bandana, that small scrap of fabric that’s come a long way from around a cowboy’s neck, to today’s well-dressed woman’s head, neck or handbag. We’ve been seeing bandanas on city streets lately so wanted to pull together a cheat sheet of how to wear a bandana in the chicest way possible. We hit up TikTok, street-style reportage and the experts at Los Angeles’s Block Shop Textiles for a crash course in fashionable bandana style.

What Exactly Is a Bandana?

Any smallish square scarf in nearly any material can justifiably be called a bandana. The scarf is practically fashion prehistory, since it can be traced back to 500 B.C. It was later popularized when Martha Washington printed one with her husband George’s likeness as a sort of commemorative object. Through subsequent centuries in the U.S., it was used as a handy hankie, neck cover and brow wipe by a veritable Village People lineup: motorcyclists, cowboys and farm laborers were among the working men who regularly wore bandanas, as well as gay men who used the color and pocket placement of the scarf to signal their sexual preferences. Today, the most commonly agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a bandana is a piece of material that’s 22 square inches in size—unless it’s a bright 19-inch version from Southern clothier Sid Mashburn. And bandanas are usually 100 percent cotton, unless, say, they are made in French silk by Hermés. Basically, the only rule for choosing a bandana is to find one that has a color and pattern you’re attracted to, then tie one on!

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How to Wear a Bandana as a Hair Accessory

You can certainly tie a bandana around your head to turn a bad hair day into a style statement, but the “washerwoman style” of tying the bandana under your hairline in back is just the beginning. You can also tie all the ends together in a roseate knot on your forehead, or roll the bandana into a thin strip and tie it in the front or side of your head, making a hairband out of it. And using the bandana to hide your rubber band in a topknot, or multiple rubber bands in a faux hawk is way stylish.

How to wear a bandana: Washerwoman hair style
Illustration by Paula Boudes

1.   Washerwoman

Fold your bandana into a triangle then tie the two ends along the fold behind your hairline in back. Pull out a few bangs for a look that’s more soft and sexy than severe.

How to wear a bandana: Top-tied bandana
Illustration by Paula Boudes

2.   Top-Tied

Fold the square into a triangle, then, starting with the point farthest from the fold, roll the fabric until you have a long bandana tube. Tie the fabric like a headband, with a double knot on top.

How to wear a bandana: bandana knotted over forehead
Illustration by Paula Boudes

3.   Forehead Knot

This triangle-folded bandana gathers all the loose ends in a knot over the forehead.

How to wear a bandana: Top-knot bandana tie
Illustration by Paula Boudes

4.   Topknot

Here’s a classic case of owning your truth, trichologically speaking—“Think my hair is messy, the way it’s bunched atop my head and not really even brushed? Well, as you can see with my fanciful scarf tied around my bun, this is exactly the effect I’m after!”

How to wear a bandana: Ponytail-tied bandana
Illustration by Paula Boudes

5.   Ponytail

Chic, classic and so, so easy, we recommend running the middle of your bandana through the underside of your ponytail, so that it doesn’t fall off in all that hair-flipping you’ll be doing.

How to wear a bandana: a bandana tied around hair bunches
Illustration by Paula Boudes

6.   Faux Hawk

This TikTok-approved style has three successive hair buns that you weave your bandana between, then tie at the base.

How to wear a bandana: scarf woven into a braid
Illustration by Paula Boudes

7.   Braid Weave

Fasten one end of a folded bandana at the top of your braid, then loosely weave it into one of the two sides of your braids as you work your way down. At the bottom, fasten the bandana inside the fastening elastic.

How to Wear a Bandana Around Your Neck

We love the classic move of folding the bandana into a triangle and the tying those ends behind your neck—think of an Old West bandit who has put down his face mask to shout something at the sheriff. Here again, folding the fabric into a long thin shape and then using to circle your neck, with the ends draping down or tucked neatly out of sight, opens up a range of looks. You can even tie the ends like a men’s tie, underneath a shirt collar.

how to wear a bandana: neck-tied bandana like a cowboy
Illustration by Paula Boudes

8.   Cowboy

The simple, back-knotted triangle lets you really show off the pattern of your bandana.

How to wear a bandana: Bandana rolled and tied around the neck
Illustration by Paula Boudes

9.   Roll Tie

Rolled then tied at an angle, this is the best way to wear a bandana casually while still showing off your necklaces and collarbone.

How to wear a bandana: Low-tied rolled bandana
Illustration by Paula Boudes

10.   Low Tie

In this look, you roll your bandana like a tube, then double-knot it loosely a few inches from your neck.

How to wear a bandana: knotted neck bandana
Illustration by Paula Boudes

11.   Neck Knot

Take a rolled bandana, tie a double knot close to your neck, then tuck the ends under the scarf. The effect is like a chunky statement necklace, but way softer to wear.

How to Wear a Bandana as an Accessory

Fashionistas trace the now-standard move of tying your scarf around your purse handle to Babe Paley, the New York socialite played by Naomi Watts in Feud: Capote and the Swans. Seems that one unseasonably hot day, super-stylish Paley took off her neck kerchief, tied it around her handbag and voila—50-plus years later, we’re all doing it. Whether fluttering from a strap, wrapped around a bag handle or tied around our wrist or dog’s neck, we love getting creative with where and how we display our bandana.

How to wear a bandana: bandana tied around a purse handle
Illustration by Paula Boudes

12.   Purse Flutter

Just double knot your bandana on your bag or backpack strap. Gauzy bandanas might look better folded in half rather than in a triangle before rolling, to better maintain a shape.

how to wear a bandana: purse handles wrapped with a bandana
Illustration by Paula Boudes

13.   Purse Handle Wrap

Take your rolled bandana and wind it around your ladylike handbag’s handle—it adds a fresh Emily in Paris vibe to your look.

how to wear a bandana: bandana wrapped around a wrist
Illustration by Paula Boudes

14.   Wrist Wrap

An iteration of the look that Hermes popularized with its skinny Twilly scarf, this is a fun way to add a moment of color to an outfit—may we suggest trending bold red? Try it by rolling your bandana into a skinny shape then wrapping it around your wrist. (This also works wonders to actually sop up perspiration during a warm-weather run.)

how to wear a bandana: Bandana tied as a belt loop
Illustration by Paula Boudes

15.   Belt Loop

Who says a belt has to encircle your entire waist? In this bandana tie, you use the front or front-side belt loops on your trousers or jeans to thread your rolled scarf through.

how to wear a bandana: a dog with a bandana tied around its neck
Illustration by Paula Boudes

16.   Pet Collar

Whether you’re tying on a specially-made pet bandana (they have elastic to stretch with your pet’s movement) or lending Fifi one of your favorite pieces, we love giving a pet their own accessory. Just get ready to share the admiring glances—all onlookers’ gazes follow a cute bandana.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...