If you’ve been out at gay bars and events for long enough, or just in the right crowd soon enough, there is a good chance you’ve seen someone with a hanky or bandanna in their back pocket. The color of that hanky usually has a meaning. If you’re on a ranch or a similar situation, it’s probably just meant to be a bandanna, so ignore everything below. Check out our Hanky Code Guide for a comprehensive and easy to use guide. These same colors apply other things like leather armbands, piping on pants and jock straps. So next time you wear a red jockstrap to a leather bar, you might want to check out what it means.
The origins of the Hanky Code:
It all began back in the early 70’s with an article in the Village Voice. The Village Voice is an alternative paper that has been published in New York’s Greenwich Village since 1955. They published a story saying that gays in the bars in the village would have an easier time picking each other up if there were a better system than keys left and right. They suggested going to the surplus store at Christopher and Washington and buying the Levi bandanas. There were only a few colors suggested: red, navy, light blue, green, and black; because that was all there was for sale in that store at the time. The article was meant as a joke, but the community took it to heart. Shortly after that bandanas started to appear in back pockets all over the Village. Over time, more colors were added and use of the “hanky code” spread beyond New York. [source]
The Hanky Code can be a very useful method for finding out what a person may be into. The problem is just like Tea Leaves, it’s all up to the interpretation which can easily be very different from what the flagger intended. One example is an orange hanky. This will generally mean “up for anything”, but does that mean in the left pocket they are a top and the right they are a bottom? Or does it mean that in the left they are “up for anything” and in the right they are not looking?
The other issue I have with the Hanky Code is that just because someone is flagging for something, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they are interested in. So even if someone is flagging red, for fisting, that doesn’t mean they might not be up for some CBT play or watersports. Also, just because they are flagging right, doesn’t mean they are only a bottom. It may just means that’s what they would like to find that night. They still may find you interesting enough to go home with even if you don’t match their flag.
The great thing about the Hanky Code is that it can strike up a good conversation. If you see someone flagging, even if you know what it means, it allows you to walk up and ask them, “I see you’re flagging blue, that’s for fucking, right?”. Then later you can ask “So, what else are you into?” You might not want to start with those lines, but you could go there pretty quickly.
Check out our Hanky Code Guide for a full run-down of all the different colors/materials/etc.