The Case for Becoming a Neckerchief Guy

Fashion
The humble bandana helped one writer unlock a whole new side of his style. Just don’t call it an ascot.

The Case for Becoming a Neckerchief Guy

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When the filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich passed away earlier this year, I immersed myself in as much of his work as I could. That meant watching a few films he directed, all of which I’ve seen multiple times. But Bogdonavich—because of his his output, but also the mystique he created for himself that people could describe as “witty, debonair, and cocksure” and it didn’t come off as silly—meant a lot to me, so I decided to take my tribute one step further. I went to my drawer, pulled out one of the bandanas I keep in there, folded it into a triangle, rolled it and tied it around my neck—the same way Bogdanovich always wore them, in what became his trademark look. I thought I’d just do it for the day, but then I did it again, and again, and all of a sudden the bandana/ascot/neckerchief was a thing I was doing regularly.

Araya Doheny

Getting into neckwear of any kind can seem daunting. Lately we’ve seen guys wearing everything from long chains to “kooky jewlery” with colorful beads or charms. But neckerchief—sometimes a simple cotton bandana, sometimes a proper silk ascot—feels like something a little more intense. Perhaps that’s because it’s got a long celebrity history: Bogdanovich made it his thing for decades, as did Marlon Brando and James Baldwin. More recently Tyler, the Creator has been seen rocking a handkerchief around his neck, as has Harry Styles. Big shoes (big necks?) to fill.

A certain amount of bandana apprehension makes sense. It’s an accessory associated with cowboys and train robbers. Maybe Axl Rose or Tupac pop into your mind. Guys who are into westernwear tend to like bandanas; writerly types like me…do not. And so Bogdanovich served as a perfect bandana role model: the guy started out as a film critic and turned into a director Occasionally I’ll write about movies, not direct them. But we’re both bespectacled, rather Jewish-looking guys. It didn’t feel like a big leap.

Personally, I’m partial to the rolled bandana over wearing it open like you’re preparing to rob a bank in the old West. And I like a true bandana more than a scarf or an ascot because it feels a little more down to earth. This is a crucial distinction for me, as it was for Peter Bogdonavich: When pressed in interviews, he’d always note that it was a bandana and not an ascot. The ascot is a fine accessory, but it’s not for everybody. They weren’t for Bogdanovich, and I don’t think they’re for me, either. I’d love to think I’m fancy, but I’m not. As he put it once, wearing a bandana “seemed like a nice thing to do.” That’s a good, simple philosophy in general for getting dressed: think about whether it’s nice or not and go from there.

David M. Benett

But nice is just a starting point, because there’s also the practicality of the neck bandana. It’s just jaunty enough to give your outfit some pop, but it isn’t too much. It’s a balanced accessory as much as it is a balancing one. It sits in the middle of your outfit, a little neutral zone between whatever you’ve got going on up top as well as down below. Think of the handkerchief as the Switzerland of your look.

The fun part comes when you decide that one or two simple primary-color bandanas isn’t enough. When I started out, I had maybe three bandanas, but now there’s a part of my dresser that looks like Steven Tyler’s mic stand. I’ve got longer ones for when I’m wearing something like a t-shirt. (Vintage Polo and Double RL work best there.) When I’m buttoned up, I like something shorter. I’ve got a few from Quaker Marine and some dope tie-dye ones I bought from a guy who makes bootleg Grateful Dead shirts. But my personal favorites tend to be the ones I get from Japanese brands, specifically Kapital. They come to me already feeling soft and don’t need a few trips through the washing machine before I feel like wearing them out. I even recently got into wearing their necklaces with a little scrap of bandana at the end when I don’t want to tie anything.

Sophie Bassouls

More than anything, the rolled bandana lets you turn whatever you tossed on in the morning into an outfit. A few days ago, for a long and slow workday at the computer, I put on a pair of Dickies overalls I love. I’ve had them for years; they’re a little beaten up and have paint spots from various projects around the house. I put on a striped shirt underneath. The look needed something else. So I opened my drawer, pulled out a bandana, and tied it around my neck. With my beard a little longer than usual and a bucket hat on my head, I couldn’t help but notice that I bore something of a resemblance to the 1980s professional wrestler Hillbilly Jim. The handkerchief, once again, came in handy: this time, it reminded me that I needed to pull a Coco Chanel and take one thing off. The bandana went back in the drawer.

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