Never underestimate the power of a simple square of fabric. The bandana is an accessory all its own that has been worn by Jane Birkin, Tupac Shakur, and wild Western cowboys with equal aplomb. Today, many women choose to wear them as an accessory—around the hair or neck, but even tied around the ankle or the strap of a handbag.
The name bandana comes from the Hindi word for “to tie,” and a bandana's color, placement, or print has had coded meanings among different cultural groups since they first rose to popularity. Clearly, a bandana is much more than just a piece of cloth.
Currently, it’s throwback inspiration from the ’90s and ’00s that’s particularly capturing the fashion set when it comes to styling. “With the Y2K trend in full gear, I’m loving baby blue, especially when used as a hair scarf,” says Julie Parlade, a Free People fashion stylist. “However, I always gravitate to a classic paisley printed army green bandana that seemingly goes with most everything or a vibrant red for that fun pop!”
Whether you want a practical cotton bandana as a camping accessory, or want something sleek and silky to tie back your hair in style, shop our favorites.
Free People Lotus Paisley Bandana
“The Lotus Paisley Print Bandana is a great option for that classic print, but in a larger size, as well as being a bit stiffer,” says Parlade, who proposes using it as a top or even a belt if rolled up. It’s big enough to be worn as a hair covering à la Jackie O, too.
Price at the time of publish: $30
Material: 50% cotton, 50% rayon | Size: 29-inch square | Colors: Sage, Key Lime, Beige +more
Heading out hiking? This bandana will soak up dust and sweat, so tie it around your neck. If the trail gets dusty, you can put it over your mouth to protect your ability to breathe, and if you get overheated, simply wet the bandana to keep you cool. Choose from over 10 color options.
Price at the time of publish: $15
Material: 100% cotton | Size: 21.75 inches square | Colors: Rose, Lavender, Coal +more
Hermès Le Petit Papier de Hermes Scarf
Want a bandana that’s steeped in luxury? Look no further than Hermès, the French fashion house known for its decorative scarves. This square style is colorful and luxe, perfect for tying around the handle of your favorite handbag.
Price at the time of publish: $375
Material: 100% silk | Size: 27-inch square | Colors: Orange
SIR Adrianna Scarf
Abstract, swirly scarves are reminiscent of the ’90s, and this stylish silk option is perfect if you’re looking for a sleek bandana that has a hint of color but isn’t in the traditional paisley print. For summer, roll the scarf up and tie it around your head like a headband, it’s perfect for keeping your hair out of your eyes at the beach.
Price at the time of publish: $180
Material: 100% silk | Size: 25-inch square | Colors: Cesco Print
Acne Studios Light Scarf
Acne Studios’ cotton and silk bandana is a hybrid style that offers the best of both worlds. The cream color is an easy neutral option that you can wear in a myriad of ways. And while the print is in line with traditional bandana styles, it’s a simple iteration.
Price at the time of publish: $170
Material: 75% cotton, 25% silk | Size: 25.5-inch square | Colors: Cream
Tory Burch Drip Bouquet Neckerchief
While paisley might be the traditional print of bandanas, florals are another popular option, especially among silk styles. This buttery-hued scarf from Tory Burch has a slightly abstract floral print and offers a subtle pop of color.
Price at the time of publish: $128
Material: 100% silk | Size: 22.5-inch square | Colors: Yellow
Clare V. Cobalt Icon Bandana
Don’t be afraid to embrace a bold, colorful bandana. This cotton option from Clare V. is covered in playful pictures and phrases. Since it's made of 100% cotton, it's easy to clean, so you can wear it on your next hike or adventuresome outing.
Price at the time of publish: $55
Material: 100% cotton | Size: 20-inch square | Patterns: Vive La Resistance, Tennis Balls, Cobalt Icon Print +more
Bode Shadow Plaid Bandana
Bode’s vintage-inspired pieces are casual with a cool touch. This plaid bandana is perfect for adding a subtle hint of print to your outfit. Try tying it onto the shoulder strap of your favorite basic bag for a little something fun.
Price at the time of publish: $150
Material: 100% viscose | Size: 23-inch square | Colors: Brown, white
Le Scarf No. 1
This scarf has become a personal favorite for wearing tied over my hair. The minimalist palette is easy to style with both bold-colored dressers and neutral staples like a trench coat. Silk bandanas tend to be a bit slipperier than cotton styles, so often I’ll clip or bobby pin the scarf in place to hold it in my hair.
Price at the time of publish: $85
Material: 100% silk | Size: 25.6-inch square | Colors: Black, cream
Saint Laurent Paisley Print Fringed Bandana
Bandanas tend to come in silk or cotton but don’t write off the possibility of a bandana for winter months too. This style made of modal and cashmere will keep your neck warm when temperatures cool. Fold it into the traditional triangle shape and tie it around your neck in place of a standard scarf.
Price at the time of publish: $350
Material: 90% modal, 10% cashmere | Size: 25.5-inch square | Colors: Black/Ivory, Rose/Black
Ferragamo Floral Silk Scarf
Looking for a bandana that can pull double duty as a top? This silk style from Ferragamo’s larger size means that you can easily wrap it around your chest to embrace the ‘90s-inspired scarf top look. For an alternate styling idea, tie the scarf around your shoulders when you’re wearing a neutral tee or tank.
Price at the time of publish: $470
Material: 100% silk | Size: 35-inch square | Colors: Avorio Bosco
If you’re looking for an everyday bandana at a relatively affordable price, Free People’s Lotus Bandana, which comes in a handful of color options, has both a silky texture and the sturdiness of cotton. If you’re looking to upgrade but want to keep things traditional, Acne Studios' paisley scarf and Tory Burch’s floral take are both traditional with a luxe twist.
What to Look for in Bandanas
“Synthetic fabrics made of plastic like polyester, elastane, or polyamide are usually more affordable than natural materials like silk or cotton but are not as kind to the environment,” says Frej Lewenhaupt, textile expert and CEO of Steamery. “These fabrics will easily show signs of wear and tear after being washed, but since bandanas don’t need to be washed that frequently, they may still last for a long time.” Madewell's 100% cotton option is great for everyday use, while delicate silk scarves like the Hermes option are best saved for special occasions.
Bandanas are typically square but can range in size, so you may want to collect a few of them, depending on how you plan to use each. For example, Clare V.’s bandana is a smaller size, meaning it's best for tying around a bag or your wrist. Meanwhile, the oversized silk scarf from Ferragamo can double as a top but might be too large to tie around your hair without excess material.
Are you looking for a technical bandana for the outdoors? Then you might want to buy a cotton style in a colorful pattern that hides dirt easily and can be tossed in the washing machine. “If your bandanas get dirty, machine wash them on a gentle cycle using a detergent designed for activewear and odor control,” suggests Lewenhaupt. “You can also prolong the lifespan of the garment even more by hand washing and hanging it to dry.” You’ll want to be more careful with silk bandanas since silk is a delicate fabric.
How can you wear a bandana?
There are many ways to style a bandana, the most popular being around the neck facing either direction. It’s also common to wear them around your head, or if they’re big enough, as a tube top. “Sometimes, just peeking out of a denim pocket is the perfect touch for a little pop of color or print,” says Parlade. “Another novel use is tying one around the shaft of a boot or the ankle instead of using an anklet.”
What’s a quick and easy way to tie a bandana around your neck?
For the easiest way to wear a bandana, simply fold it in half so that it's triangle shaped. Find the longest side of the triangle, and take hold of the two corners on either side of it. Put the bandana on your shoulders so the triangle is over your back and the two ends are in front. Then, double-knot the ends at your desired tightness. You can then wear the bandana tied in the front, or rotate it so that it ties in the back.
Why Trust Byrdie
Aemilia Madden is a writer and editor who has spent the last decade covering the latest trends and advancements in the fashion space. She is an editor and brand consultant and her latest work can be found in Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel, Fashionista, Vogue, and more. Through the years, she’s tested dozens of bandanas, both for outdoor activities and for dressing up.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any bandanas from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.