growing a minimalist wardrobe: bandanas.

March 29, 2018

growing a minimalist wardrobe | reading my tea leaves If you’ve found yourself feeling jealous of babies getting all the cutest things to tie around their necks, perhaps today’s post will offer you a bit of comfort. It certainly did me. In celebration of springtime, an ode to the bandana.

I love bandanas. (I’ve said this before.)

What’s not to love, is the question.

A perfect bandana is worn but not yet raggedy; soft and maybe a little faded and showing signs of love. A bandana is an accessory you can have a relationship with, isn’t it? 

I packed bandanas with me on camping trips as a kid. We would arrive to a campground and before pitching a tent, I would diligently tie my hair back with a bandana packed for the purpose. Instantly, I felt ready to face the great outdoors. (No matter that my trusty bandana wouldn’t save me from getting head lice during one ill-fated Girl Scout camporee.) Later, in college, I wore a purple batik bandana over unwashed hair for an entire summer. My kids regularly ask for me to tie bandanas in their hair. It’s anyone’s guess what’s happening inside Silas’s brain as he shoves a bandana in my direction and makes baby seal noises at me until I wrap it around his head. All I can imagine is that he must also feel transformed by the wearing of it. He waddles to our basket on wheels, shoves a baby doll inside, and begins his march around the apartment, imagining himself, perhaps, as a parent en route to the grocery store, or heading off to work. It’s anyone’s guess, of course, but the bandana seems to put an air of confidence in his step.

Yes, a bandana is my ideal accessory, zero cares given about whether or not I look like an extra on the set of a Western while wearing them. Or like I’m about to rivet an airplane. Or bake a cake. Or wipe sweat from a dusty brow. A bandana can transform you in a hundred ways, can’t it?

For those particularly preoccupied by small spaces or pared down closets, it’s impossible to ignore a bandana’s helpfulness as a diminutive accessory. They’re intentionally made small enough to fit into a pocket but large enough to tie around your neck. You can keep a stack of them folded neatly in your sock drawer and have a week’s worth of flair that takes up only a tiny four by four square.

More than that, they’re useful in ways that a typical scarf could never dream of being. The cotton ones aren’t so precious that you couldn’t use one, to, say, blow a nose or wipe your brow, or generally fix something up a bit. (Plus, an opportunity to give a bandana a wash is merely another opportunity to get it soft and rumply and perfectly aged.)

Better still, even the most special bandanas still usually fall into a comfortable range of affordability, and lots, as you likely know, can be found for just a dollar a piece. If you have the patience, vintage options sleuthed in dusty thrift stores and attics are often the best options—and practically, or quite literally, free. (If you’re not up for the hunt, a search on a secondhand marketplace like Etsy can yield quick satisfaction.)growing a minimalist wardrobe | reading my tea leaves

I’ve been cataloguing examples of beautiful bandanas spotted lately and sharing them intermittently, but I thought gathering them for you here might be a nice thing to do. A bandana enthusiast shouldn’t save all the good stuff just for herself, I suppose.

Carleen: Designer Kelsy Parkhouse has a few cotton bandanas in her current collection, but my favorite by far is the Bicoastal Bandana (I’m wearing it here!), with New York State Roses and California Poppies printed onto red, blue, or yellow bandanas. It’s a classic cotton bandana that will get softer with use and washing. (Kelsy sent me a parcel after I first mentioned her design in this space and I’ve been wearing this sunshine-y yellow one all week.) Made in the USA.

Gamine Workwear: I’m an admirer of just about everything Taylor Johnston from Gamine Co. puts into the world. This year she partnered with Berkshire artist Bree Honeycutt to produce a year-long seasonal dye project in the form of four, plant-dyed handkerchiefs (bandanas by another name). Gamine also has a collection of vintage-inspired tie bandanas, sized large enough to be worn comfortably on your head or around your neck. They have a block printed stripe and a woven stripe, and a silk camouflage print for good measure. Made in Massachusetts.

Jenni Earle: Design-house Jenni Earle specializes in making hand-dyed bandanas and hankies, inspired by the handkerchiefs that the founder grew up watching her grandpa Earl use in his workshop. Each handkerchief is hand-dyed in Winston Salem, North Carolina and if little messages of hope or courage is something you like, you’ll find those emblazoned on them, too.

Kiriko: RMTL sponsor, Bridge & Burn, is selling two beautiful Kiriko bandanas this spring (in blue and yellow). The prints were inspired by Japanese Katazome stencils and adapted for use in screen-printing. Made in Portland, Oregon.

Ozma: An oversized and luxurious take on a classic American bandana print, the Ozma 1930s Bandanas are printed on silk and beautiful in their simplicity. They’re hand-printed and dyed in Los Angeles.

BlockShop: There aren’t any true bandanas currently in stock, but I bought myself one of the square BlockShop scarves (similar to this one) for my very first Mother’s Day and it’s still a most prized possession. 

Other things:

I stumbled upon this piece from a kindred spirit. (Though while decidedly not a “cool girl” I did spend more than a few minutes of my pre-pubescent youth wearing a bandana as a shirt.)

In case you feel compelled, as I did.

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  • Reply janean March 29, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Maybe by suggestion of my morning hunger or the bright yellow tied around your neck, I read this as “bananas” until I caught it. Hey, it made sense for a while! HA! Great post, as always. 🙂

    • Reply Maryann March 29, 2018 at 9:35 am

      I did the same thing!! I think it must be the combo of the word and the bright yellow.

      I love a good bandana and the options here are so pretty.

  • Reply Chris Saunders March 29, 2018 at 10:06 am

    I love this post! 🙂 Where did you get your white t- shirt–I am always looking for the perfect white tee! -Thanks, Chris

  • Reply Sarah March 29, 2018 at 10:27 am

    For some embroidered fanciness, definitely check out Yes Stitch Yes on Insta and Etsy. Beautiful tiny little flowers embroidered on bandana corners.

    I like my bandanas, too, though mine are almost always put to work as handkerchiefs, rather than accessories. Except when I tie one around the dog 😉

  • Reply Lisa March 29, 2018 at 11:12 am

    I have worn them my whole adult life. I have a tote dedicated to my collection. My stepmother once said I looked like an old babushka while on the beach one day. It was not meant as a compliment. But now years later, my grandchildren expect to see me in one, and will put one on and say, “Look, I’m Grandma!” So I suppose all these years later, I am an old babushka!

    • Reply Trish O April 2, 2018 at 6:06 pm

      Love this. I want to be a babushka, too.

  • Reply b March 29, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Love this post! Perfect timing as a bandana is one of the best things in spring: cheerful accessory, neck/chest protection in the garden, handkerchief for pollen-induced sneezing, they’re so helpful.
    I just purchased the Carleen bicoastal, as my two year wedding anniversary is coming up soon and the traditional gift is cotton. It’s more than perfect in that I’m from California, and my wife is from New York. Thanks for helping me find this beautiful, utilitarian little gift!

  • Reply Judith March 29, 2018 at 11:28 am

    How did you know?

  • Reply Megan Louise March 29, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    Wow , i love this post! Bandanas are one of my favourite style steals , they are vintage and minimalist , well done!

  • Reply Bailey March 29, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    I’m a similarly big fan of bandanas, and I’ve been admiring the set that Moxie & Moss has:
    Plus, Moxie & Moss is a woman-owned business making truly excellent women’s workwear–good folks to support 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 29, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      Terrific! Thanks for mentioning!

  • Reply Mickey March 29, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Ok, that’s weird, because just last week I was rotating my scarf drawer, pulling out thick woolen scarves and putting back in bandanas and spring/fall scarves. I just so happened to be tempting winter back for a day with this move, but now I’m all set for spring.

    I have an old batik that belonged to my grandma. Last time I visited her, she just opened her wardrobe and said, “is there something here you like?” pointing to the “good shelf” where she stores all sorts of keepsakes. (All grandmas where I’m from have “good shelves.”) I picked a square batik that I’ve been wearing as a bandana.

  • Reply Lo March 29, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Last Chance Textiles has GORGEOUS raw silk and kona cotton bandanas and the woman who owns it dyes them with natural dyes she harvests. The black walnut color is gorgenous. 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 29, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      So beautiful!! Editing your comment to include a link so people can check them out!

      • Reply Lo March 29, 2018 at 10:50 pm

        Amazing! Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Alexandra March 29, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    I work in technical theater (ie as a stagehand and in scenic construction), and for some time I toured the country with a show. When we toured through Fort Worth, Texas, I was amazed to see that the union local there has a surprising depth and breadth of skilled women laborers, especially in my department (props). This is still a very male-dominated industry, and even being based in the epicenter of the industry, NYC, I knew relatively few women who did what I did – and yet in Fort Worth, the props crew was entirely women save for one man, and they were GOOD. Carpenters, riggers, electricians – all the departments had pretty significant quantities of women, all working in significant ways.

    One of the things that has always stuck with me was the unofficial “uniform” of several of the props women of Fort Worth: a bandana tied around the neck. To catch the sweat or, on hotter days, to dampen with water for extra cooling. I felt like that signified something great. When you are in a new city every week, you don’t know who your next crew will be; sometimes they’re very highly skilled and sometimes they know almost nothing, and you have to do the job the same way regardless. It’s stressful and nerve-wracking, and the challenge of managing a crew of strangers is amplified when you are a young woman and the crew is mostly men (who often are reluctant to accept your authority). When I walked into that theater on our first day in town and I saw a crew of women before me, all visibly ready to work hard, and all clearly knowledgeable and skilled – well, I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career, but unlike so many of them, that was one I didn’t expect until it happened. It snuck up on me and has stayed with me ever since.

    I took the bandana uniform back to NYC with me, to my shows and jobs here. It was practical and convenient, and I felt that it helped signify to the many men I worked with that I was there to get dirty, to get sweaty, to work hard. I switched to the “office side” of the industry after my first child was born, to have family-friendlier scheduling during this stage of life, but still, when I am gearing up for any bit of hard work – even just heading to the park with a toddler and an infant – I tie my bandana around my neck, and I remember those women, and I feel part of a sisterhood somehow.

    Thank you for this post. I sheepishly admit to being the person who has, in the past, googled “reading my tea leaves bandana,” trying to find old posts where you have linked to some, when I’m looking to replenish my stash. So if you were wondering, well, hi!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 29, 2018 at 2:22 pm

      I love this story so much and no need to feel sheepish! Sheepishness all mine; you’d think I might occasionally look to see what people are searching on this ol’ site!

    • Reply Genevieve March 29, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      I just wanted to say I really loved this comment.

    • Reply Roxanne March 29, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      I agree, Genevieve. This was a pleasure to read!

    • Reply Trish O April 2, 2018 at 6:07 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. It is amazing and lovely how a small thing, like a bandana, can recall so much meaning and memory.

  • Reply Ashley March 29, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Yes! I swear by buffs. Many are vegan, and they have so many beautiful patterns. They come in handy as a commuting cyclist, to keep warm, cover my face so I can breathe going into the wind, wipe away sweat, or hold hair back. Same with backpacking – UV protection, and when wet to keep cool. I even use them instead of a hairnet in the kitchen where I work. I tie it in back with a knot to hold in place. I resonate with Alexandra, that bandanas (or buffs) can feel a little bit like being part of a tribe of hardworking, badass ladies!

  • Reply Holly March 29, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    I’ve never felt the need to comment, here, but, man, I love the picture you painted of Silas!!!! Hahahaha. So awesome. Made my day.

    I also have a stack of 4×4 folded, soft bandanas in my sock drawer 🙂

  • Reply Suzanne March 30, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    I also love APPRVL’s series of bandanas! The Mussari sisters each do awesome work and I love this collab between them!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 30, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Trish O April 2, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Love that you bought yourself a special treasure to commemorate your first Mother’s Day. I may follow that idea this year…but it will be my 16th Mother’s Day, it is equally special. Actually, this scarf may be the thing. It is beautiful.

  • Reply Amanda May 18, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    So thrilled to see Jenni Earle on your list! Her sister was my college roomate and I’ve been loving watching her success!!!

  • Reply Melany February 11, 2020 at 1:07 am

    Bandanas are my “thing” or signature trademark if that describes it better. I have worn a bandana every day for the last forty years. My collection has grown to over 487 at last count, not including over one hundred scarves (that I do not wear). Just bandanas for this lady. Tried to give them up but only lasted 5 days! It is just a part of me that comes naturally, like the tarot cards that I read.

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