Handkerchief code

The handkerchief code, also known as the hanky code, bandana code or flagging is a way of indicating, usually among gay male casual sex seekers or BDSM practitioners in the leather subculture or leather community in the US, Canada & Europe, whether they are a top or bottom, and what kind of sex they are seeking, by wearing cotton color-coded handkerchiefs (bandanas), usually in the back pocket. This code was widely used in the 1970s, but is much less used today. (The terms bandana code, hanky code, or flagging are much more widely used among those in the leather subculture than the term handkerchief code.) It should be noted that this code has come into more general usage today. Therefore, while flagging a particular fetish/color is accepted as a valid indication of a fetishist's interests, it is not necessarily an indication that the wearer is a member of the Leather Community or the leather subculture.


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 where 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).

The modern-day version of this Bandana Code actually originates back to the 70s when the New York City newspaper, the Village Voice, published an article suggesting that it would be easier for gay men in the Village to pick each other up if they didn't only have to rely on wearing their keys in their back pockets, left to denote active, right passive. The feature suggested that they should all get down to the surplus store at the intersection of Christopher and Washington Streets where they could buy color-coded Levi's bandanas.

Although it was originally said in a sarcastic manner, the gay community took the recommendation to heart, not only in New York, but eventually across the globe. Although the code isn't as strong as it once was, it still exists in some circles.

How the bandanas are worn

The bandanas are worn on the left side of the body for tops and the right for bottoms. Today, they are almost exclusively worn (or "flagged") in the rear jeans pocket, just as tops wear their keys on the left belt loop and bottoms on the right. In the 1970's it was very common for men to wear their hanky tied around their neck (with the knot positioned on either the left or right side), or around the ankle, especially when wearing boots, or, when undressed. The bandanas have been worn hanging from the left or right side of one's belt. A Go Go dancer at a gay club may wear the bandanas around the right or left side of his g-string to indicate what kind of sex he is interested in if he meets someone after his performance.

There is no universally understood color code, and there have been some regional variations. There is general agreement upon the colours for more common practices, particularly those with an indexical relation between the color and the practice (eg: yellow for watersports, brown for scat, black for SM, orange for very advanced, very kinky, green for sex for money), but there is no absolute consensus for the more uncommon practices (those appearing toward the bottom of the list, or unlisted; the colours shown here represent a more or less common consensus.

The bandana code in pop culture

Many BDSM/Leather/sex shops have complimentary cards of hanky codes, listing bandana colors and their meanings.

Color Meaning
Orange Wearers of orange bandannas are among the most experienced of Leathermen or fetishists. Their fetishes are so numerous, the wearing of numerous bandannas would be impractical, and unweildy. Instead, these men flag Orange. Orange indicates that the wearer will "TOP" in relatively any fetish, anytime, anywhere(if worn on the left). Conversely, when worn on the right, it indicates the wearer will "BOTTOM" in relatively any fetish, anytime, anywhere(if worn on the right). In a 2006 article on InternationalLeatherman.com, site owner Tom Ferrari, a well-known and predominant Leatherman of today who self-identifies as a highly experienced bottom, states that he, himself, flags orange. In the article, he relates that the internet is awash in the misconception that orange flagged on the right indicates, "nothing right now" or "just cruising". He states that he traced much of this by direct contact with site owners who admitted cutting and pasting their pages of hanky codes from other websites. This was supported by typographical errors, and by underlying source for web pages. Mr. Ferrari cites, "Going back to the oldest records, and to our eldest members of the Gay Leather/BDSM Community, we find that any color worn on the left indicates a preference for topping, and any color worn on the right indicates a preference for bottoming. The color indicates the fetish of interest." Mr. Ferrari also cites, "An excellent reference, and one of the oldest sources of this information is, "The Leatherman's Handbook", by Larry Townsend. Mr. Ferrari is an occasional presenter at Leather/BDSM/fetishist workshops, and conferences.
Black Heavy S&M One of the more predominant hanky colors, black indicates the wearer's interest in heavy sadism and masochism. This may involve whips, or other painful fetishes such as cock and ball torture. A top (sadist) wears black on the left, whereas a bottom (masochist) wears it on the right.
Grey Bondage Involves rope, straitjackets, handcuffs, duct tape, cling wrap (for mummification), sleep sacks, vacuum sacks (or beds), cages, and other devices and modes of limiting the bottom's ability to move or to escape.
White Mutual Masturbation
Chamois Motorcycle Sex Indicates the wearer is looking for Biker Sex or Motorcycle Sex. Most commonly, this involves a motorcycle as a prop, or as a sexual device. It may involve one or more Bikers in the sexual activities. If the TOP has a motorcycle, the bottom wearing chamois may be asked or expected to wash or to polish the motorcycle.
Red Fisting
Light blue Oral Sex
Robin Egg Blue (Pale Robin Egg Blue) 69
Navy Blue Anal sex
Pink (Hot Pink) dildos
Charcoal Latex, PVC, or Rubber Fetish
Yellow Watersports--Urine Fetish
Medium Blue Cop Sex (Uniform fetish:Wearing police uniforms)
Turquoise Blue (Printer's Cyan) Aquaphilia--Having sex in water, like in a bathtub or swimming pool
Teal Cock and ball torture
Lime Sitophilia--dining on someone or being dined off of.
Sandalwood Carpenter Sex, i.e. having sex in a working environment
Khaki Military Sex (Uniform fetish:Wearing military uniforms)
Grey Flannel (not cotton) Suit and Tie Fetish
Coral Foot fetish (pinkies)
Kelly green Hustler (left); John or prospective (the hustler hopes) Sugar daddy (right)
Hunter green Looking for a boy (left) or looking for a daddy (right)
Mauve Navel fetish
Brown Scat
Dark Pink Tit torture
Purple (HTML/CSS color) Piercings
Lavender (Bright Lavender) Cross dressing/Gender play
Mustard (Gold Ochre) Size queen (left--has big cock; right--wants big cock)
Gold (Golden) Two looking for one (left) / One looking for two (right) (Referred to as looking for a three-way)
Apricot Chubby chaser
Beige Rimming
Peach Bear or Cub who is interested in sex with another Bear
Camouflage Rugged outdoorsman, i.e. having sex outdoors
Rust Ponyism (may include dressing as cowboys)
Dark Red (Maroon) Piercing Piercer (left) or Piercee (right)
Magenta (Printer's Magenta) Armpits
Fuchsia Spanking
Gold (Metallic Gold) lamé (not cotton) Looking for a bodybuilder
Silver (Metallic Silver) lamé (not cotton) Starfucker or Starfuckee (Looking for a rock star [or male groupie ])
Doily Having sex in Tea Rooms
Black Leather (not cotton) bandana Leather fetish
Tie-dye Phone sex
Baby blanket AgePlay (infantalism)

See also

Further reading

External links

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This article is based on "Handkerchief code" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Handkerchief+code&action=history