All-American Style: Bandanas and Interior Design

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Explains the Role Bandanas Play in All-American Interior Design


As I roll down the convertible top, tie my hair in a bandana, and set off on the next leg of my cross-country road trip to explore all-American design styles, I can’t help but realize this little square of fabric plays a big role in the patchwork quilt of our country. Bandanas are the go-to accessory for cowboys, bikers, rebels, riveters, and silver-screen stars alike. There’s something purely American about them. (However, they’re borrowed from other cultures, much like everything else that is “American.”) So, how does this paisley print accessory play into the all-American interior design plan? Well, that’s what I’m setting off to find out!  

A Brief History of the Bandana 

The Origin Story 

While the bandana may be most associated with the American cowboy, the bandana’s history actually begins in India. Here, it was common practice for textile makers to create decorative silk kerchiefs called bandhani, named for their dying process. These fabric squares made their way to Europe in the 18th century thanks to new trade routes. Bandhani was anglicized to bandana, and the popular Persian boteh pattern was renamed paisley. The bandana’s popularity took off, and the accessory was utilized as handkerchiefs, shawls, and headscarves. 

The American Cowboy 

The bandana made its way across the pond to America in the late 18th century during the midst of a revolution, which immediately tied it to the American spirit of rebellion. Some of the first patterns featured George Washington, and bandanas would continue to be used for political ads through subsequent years. 

Outside of their rebellious spirit, bandanas have plenty of practical purposes. In the late 1800s, cowboys adopted them into their classic Americana uniform as dust masks. Coal miners would also use them to protect themselves in the mines, and their red bandanas (worn in a protest to demand unions) are said to be the origin of the term “rednecks.” Bandanas would continue to be used as practical workwear items through the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and World War II, with the most iconic worker, Rosie the Riveter, sporting a bandana headscarf in one of the most famous American war campaigns. 

The 70s Headscarf 

After World War II, bandanas transitioned from a workwear necessity to a fashion accessory. The headscarf would become the chic wardrobe staple of bohemian creatives. One of the most iconic examples is Valerie Harper, who wore her signature headscarf playing Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Many compare Rhoda’s kerchiefs to Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes. While stylish, bandanas became more than a fashion accessory for many. The LGBT community, gangs, and other groups used color and pattern systems to subtly identify themselves to those in the know. 

A Style Legacy 

The bandana has been intricately tied to American history since the beginning, leaving a style legacy. This little square of fabric has been used to propagate a revolution, shield cowboys on the dusty frontier, clean the hands of WWII riveters, accessorize Hollywood stars, and express the rebellious American spirit. The bandana has come a long way in the fashion world, and its legacy is even making appearances in American homes. 

Bandanas and Interior Design 

You can find nods to bandanas and paisley patterns in American design styles from shabby chic to maximalist. Many people are incorporating decor items like bandana wallpaper into vacation retreats, and luxury home brands like New Ravenna are even bringing the bandana pattern to intricate stone tile designs. Bandana imagery holds a mass appeal, but why does it capture us enough to outfit our interiors with paisley prints and subtle odes to the cowboy?  

The Bandana Evokes the Spirit of All-American Interior Design 

The Western Frontier 

From the cowboy to the hippie, the bandana symbolizes the Western frontier and breaking away from the beaten path for a new type of freedom. It’s forever ingrained in the Southwestern interior design style as well as the laid-back California Casual style. While these looks have their own unique feel, they both celebrate the American spirit of rebellion.  

Laid-back Style

In fashion, the bandana and its classic paisley patterns can be dressed up or dressed down depending on the rest of the outfit and occasion. Will you sport it as an elegant silk shawl, a bohemian headscarf, or a casual neck kerchief? Similarly, a room can also be dressed up or down. Sister Parish and Albert Hadley achieved this balance better than anyone else, creating rooms that are distinctly American in their laid-back feel. Their spaces are like Audrey Hepburn wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a bandana headscarf — essentially casual but with an underlying elegance. They created a celebrated firm and produced some of the most iconic American designers working today — all developing this “all-American” design style our country is still refining. 

Borrowed and Reimagined Trends

The thing about American interior design is that most of our ideas are borrowed from other cultures around the world, and that’s what I love about it. We have a knack for taking something tried-and-true and not being afraid to break the “old world rules” just a little for our own take on design. Similarly, the bandana started in India, made its way to Europe, and was reimagined into something new here in the States. American style and culture is a beautiful mix, and the bandana represents that blend, all while feeling effortlessly chic and laid back. 

The Accessory of Adventure 

The bandana really is the American accessory of adventure. It’s there for you to tie up your hair, wipe your hands, and start the next leg of your journey without missing a beat. Design is its own adventure, too, filled with unexpected twists and turns along the road. Whether you choose to incorporate the bandana into your final design scheme or not, it’s best to at least take one along the ride. 

With my convertible top down and bandana tied, it’s time to drive off into my next American design adventure.