The hanky code initially began with the use of red bandanas to discreetly identify practitioners of fisting.
In many early hanky codes, red typically appears as the first color. Queer businesses printed the hanky code decoder lists for distribution.
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Erotica shops, bookstores, and catalogs provided decoder lists with the purchase of bandanas, while gay bars printed the lists with location information as a form of marketing. The origin of the hanky code exists like myth or urban legend, with two or three main stories surrounded by a variety of altered details, depending on the source.
Use of the hanky code spread throughout the mid Bostton.
Practiced predominately by queer men in the Bondage, Discipline, and Sado-Masochism BDSM or leather subculture, the hanky code became part of the gay mainstream. From magazine article illustrations to book covers, images of a bandana tucked in a denim back-pocket became a visual shorthand for queer men.
Additionally, terms such as hanky code and flagging the act of participating in the hanky code became part of the queer lexicon. As a part of queer popular culture, references to the hanky code eventually appeared in literature, film, and art.
These developments not only documented the once underground phenomenon, but created a cultural record of an emerging queer masculine identity. Fettish cultural references have continued through the decades.
However, hanky code flagging continued in the queer BDSM subculture, where alternative sexual activities deemed as low or no risk for infection were practiced. In the late s the BDSM subculture reinterpreted the hanky code aesthetic through dress. Known as fetishwear or gear, military uniform-inspired dress and gladiator-inspired accessories traditionally made in black leather began appearing with an accented color associated with fetih hanky code.
Additionally, accessories such as suspenders, shoelaces, and graphic t-shirts referencing more popular or common fetishes provided a casual approach to hanky code flagging. While sartorial codes aled queerness with later codes also aling sexual availabilitythe hanky code was the first sartorial code to simultaneously communicate queer identity, sexual availability, and sexual fetishes.
In the course of its plus year history the hanky code contributed to representations of queer masculinity, responded to cultural shifts in the queer zeitgeist, and evolved from a covert ifier to a sartorial declaration of queer identity, visibility, and representation. Raul Cornier is a recent graduate of the University of Rhode Island Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and De, with an emphasis on historic textiles and costume.
The History Project is hosting our second annual flagging party and fundraiser at Jacques on Sunday, April for more information. Share this.