Gay men have always been pros at searching for sex. Long before Grindr, men would use colour coded handkerchiefs to discreetly signal exactly what they were looking for. While the practice is no longer widely used, we’ve decided to explain what this phenomenon was in its heyday.
Used in the 1970’s, the handkerchief code (also known as the hanky code, the bandana code, and flagging) employed a selection of coloured bandanas used to indicate the wearers preferred sexual fetishes. With practitioners across the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe it soon became the norm for casual-sex seekers to effortlessly explain wether they were top or bottom, and what they were seeking.
From it’s inception in gay and bisexual men, the popular practice soon grew to include all genders and the level of colours grew and grew, although there is much distinction between the uses of colours for certain acts.
The origins of this trend originated in San Francisco after the Gold Rush of 1855,when due to the shortage of women, men would participate in square dances with one another. Here a code was developed wherein the man who wore the blue bandana would take the male part while the man wearing the red bandana took the female part.
This was adapted into the modern hanky code in New York City during the late 1970’s when a journalist for the Village Voice suggested that it would be an efficient idea for homosexuals to furtively announce their sexual desires by wearing different coloured hankies.
Although it was initially suggested in jest, the gay community responded to the idea and the fad quickly grew among the wider world, especially in the leather community.
The bandanas were often worn on the left side of the body for tops and the right for bottoms. While they were worn around necks, ankles and belts, they were almost exclusively displayed in rear jeans pocket.
There is no universally understood colour coding, and there are some regional variations but generally there is an agreement upon the colours for more common practices. Particularly those with an intuitive relation between the colour and the practice e.g.: yellow for watersports, brown for scat, black for SM, and, green for paid sex.
Initially there were about twelve colours for the more common practices: anal sex, oral sex, etc. The code grew and grew including almost anything imaginable.
See the codes below: