Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design


Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design

First Advisor

Linda Welters


For centuries, homosexual men and women incorporated ways of covertly communicating sexual orientation and/or sexual identity into behavior, language, and dress. In the twentieth century, a series of embedded sartorial codes used by queer men communicated sexual orientation and availability. As fashion and representations of masculinity changed, so did the use of various clothing items to represent distinct sartorial codes for communicating same-sex desire.

One such sartorial code, known as the hanky code, was used by queer men in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s. The hanky code consisted of the placement of a colored bandana in one’s rear pocket. The color was associated with a particular sexual practice or fetish, and placement was associated with the particular sexual role the wearer engaged in. This was the first queer sartorial code to simultaneously communicate sexual orientation or identity, sexual availability, and sexual fetishes. The hanky code quickly inspired imagery which became a visual representation of queer masculinity, responded to cultural shifts in the queer zeitgeist, and transitioned as an object for covert communication to an open signifier of queer identity.

Using a grounded theory approach, this thesis examines the history of the hanky code phenomenon, its evolution, and its cultural significance via appearances and references in art, entertainment, dress, literature, and media. This thesis will build on existing research through an examination of primary source material, a review of existing literature and research, and participant observation to establish the significance and impact of the hanky code on queer fashion, culture, and sexual identity formation and presentation.



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