Fetish for newbies – a brief history of the hanky code
06 July 2016
If you've just started attending leather bars or fetish parties, you might have noticed guys with hankies in their back pockets. What on the surface may seem to be an accessory is actually a gay code that tells you a lot about the wearer. This is hanky code, and the colours of which represent sexual fetishes and preferences of those who use it.
It's believed the hanky code first originated in San Francisco. After the Gold Rush in 1855, there was a noticeable lack of women in the area. That was no reason not to throw regular square dances though; men would wear blue and red bandanas around their arms or hanging from back pockets to indicate who was to dance the 'male' part and who would take the 'female' part. This indicator was then adopted by gay men to represent their desired role in the sack.
The practice was carried across the country to New York. It's believed that the first person to write about the hanky code was a journalist for the free weekly NYC newspaper the Village Voice in early 1971. The writer joked that instead of wearing a set of keys to indicate whether someone was a 'top' or 'bottom' (as was the common practice at the time), it would be more efficient and subtle to instead wear different coloured hankies – each representing a particular sexual preference or fetish.
From these simple beginnings, the code developed and broadened to match gay men's changing tastes. Now, with over 70 different colours or types of fabric, you can tell a great deal from hankies if you know what to look for. It's not just the colours of the hankies either; it's also the pockets in which they're worn. Hankies worn on the left indicate an active partner; hankies worn on the right indicate a passive partner.
To help you remember it, we've created a breakdown of the essential handkerchief codes by colour and pocket (we've also thrown in a few lesser known ones too). Select the link below for the infographic, and keep it in mind next time you're at an event and want a clear idea of who's in the mood to play and what they're after.