I thought some might find this nostalgic while others born after the heyday of public cruising might find it interesting. The hanky code was a covert sartorial code used predominately by queer men in the s and into the s. 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. 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.
Modern Hanky Code
Colour Codes | Vestoj
What Is the Hanky Code?
Hanky code was widely used in the ies of gay and bisexual men. The wearing of various colored bandanas around the neck was common in the mid and late nineteenth century among cowboys, steam railroad engineers, and miners in the Western United States. It is believed that the wearing of bandanas on gay men originated in San Francisco after the gold rush, when because of a shortage of women, men dancing with each other in square dances developed a code wherein the man wearing a blue bandana took the male part in the square dance, and the man in the red bandana took the female part of these bandanas typically worn on the hand or hanging on the belt or in the back pocket of some jeans. It is believed that the modern hanky code started in new York in late or early when a journalist for the village voice joked that instead of simply wearing keys to indicate whether someone is "above" or "below", it would be more efficient to subtly announce their particular sexual focus by wearing different colored hankies.
Hal Fischer took the language of the instruction manual and applied it to the jocks and leathermen of gay San Francisco in the 70s. He explains the code. As well as deciphering the codes of hankies, key chains and earrings, Gay Semiotics guides us through archetypes, street fashions and various BDSM practices. Forty years on, the images can now be seen at Project Native Informant in London, along with other Fischer works from the s. For Fischer, the humour, the labels, the instructive text and the use of greyscale all served to undermine the romanticism that still surrounded photography in the US at the time.