Flagging: The Colors of BDSM

Posted by Andrew Schroeder on

There is a chance that you heard about the term flagging, and you might have noticed people wearing bandanas in their pockets. If you don’t know anything about this, you might be surprised to know that wearing a colored handkerchief in your pocket can show other people what your kink is. There are so many things you can discover by wearing a specific accessory. Here, we will go through everything you need to know about flagging colors and history behind this exciting phenomenon.

Where Does "Flagging" Come From?

Wearing bandanas was rather popular in the mid-nineteenth century, especially among miners and cowboys in the United States. During the Gold Rush in San Francisco, people started wearing bandanas as a sign. Due to the shortage of women, men started dancing with each other. The one wearing a blue bandana would take up the role of a male, while the one wearing the red would, as they used to say, play the lady. While it all started as a way to determine roles in square dancing (or that’s what people claim happened), wearing different hankies soon began serving another purpose.

Gay hanky code reappeared in New York in the early seventies. Before that, gay and bi people would wear keys on a chain to indicate whether they are top or bottom. According to the rule, wearing your keys on the left side meant top, while the right side meant bottom. During the seventies, one of the reporters from Village Voice made a joke about how easier it would be to simply wear different colors to indicate preferred sexual fetishes or preferences.

However, many people still use key chains as a sign of their sexual orientation. This practice has remained rather popular in the lesbian community.

Using Bandanas

In 1972, Alan Selby, Ron Ernst, and Pat O’Brien worked together. Their specialty was leather, and they created many products we now consider classics. While they were working in London, they had a deal with a company making bandanas. However, the company doubled the order by accident.

Since the deal with the company was still fresh, they didn’t want to return the order. They decided to try out something new. By replacing the whole key chain method with handkerchiefs or bandanas, they sparked the whole flagging thing among gay males and later in the BDSM community.

Flagging became an international phenomenon, and soon, the right people knew about it and the meaning behind colors. In essence, flagging became a way of communication between people and finding partners who share the same kink.

What Exactly Is Flagging?

So, how exactly does it work? What is flagging? Flagging is one way to find like-minded people who share the same sexual preferences or fetishes. The oldest type of flagging was binary, and men wore either a red or blue bandana to pick a role. The principle behind what you can find today is the same. The only difference is the number of colors and the place you’ll wear your bandana.

Each color represents a different kink, and we will go in detail a bit later about that. Another important thing is whether you wear the handkerchief in your left or right pocket. Similarly to the key rule, the left pocket (or left side) means top, while the right one signals the bottom role. That way, you only need to find the appropriate color and place it in your left or right pocket based on your preferences.

Of course, if you leave the handkerchief completely in your pocket, only Superman will be able to know about your kink. Instead, you will leave a part of it outside so that others can see it and approach you if they share the same interests as you do.

Other names for the flagging you might encounter are handkerchief code or hanky code, bandana code, and others. Even though it was primarily gay and bi men who used the code, it soon became popular among the BDSM practitioners and anyone looking for something kinky and non-vanilla.

What Do the Colors Mean?

It is essential to mention that colors are not written in stone. Some communities out there have their own rules and signals. In a bit, we will go through the most common and generally accepted meanings of each color, but some deviations from the rule are bound to happen.

American author, Larry Townsend, wrote a book named “The Leatherman’s Handbook” in 1972. The book was the first look into the gay leather community, and it was a way of bringing these people into the open. At the time of publishing, the book made quite an impact, and to this day remains one of the most authoritative works in the field.

But what is more important is that Townsend gave us a list of colors and the meaning behind them. This list is still valid today, and many employ the color-code system.

As we already mentioned, the same color applies to both tops and bottoms, and the only difference is the side or pocket in which the wearer placed the handkerchief. He also mentioned that many people wear bandanas of any color without knowing that there is a different meaning to it and that it is important to talk to the person to ensure that they are on the same page.

Black

Black bandana is usually associated with BDSM or similar kinks, with a focus on the S&M part. Sadomasochism has been around for centuries, and it seems obvious why there is a dedicated color for this kink. The person wearing a black bandana in their left pocket or side is the sadist, while the one wearing it on the right side is a masochist.

Dark Blue

If you are into “butt stuff” dark blue color is the one you should wear. This color does not only mean you just want anal sex. It can often mean “down to fuck” too. Either way, the left side means a giver, while the right one is for the receiving party.

Light Blue

If you are into giving or receiving oral, the code is light blue. As you can imagine, the person looking to receive oral will wear light blue on their left side, while the giving person will wear it on the right. Some also mention a similar color for 69ing, and it’s marked as “robin’s egg blue” in modern hanky code.

Brown

The color brown is, quite aptly, for people who enjoy scat. No, we are not talking about vocal jazz improvisations here, but rather about sexual arousal coming from feces. Just be sure to remember that the left side is for top and right for the bottom.

Yellow

If, after the previous color, you thought that yellow is for golden showers and other watersports, you were correct. Indeed, for anyone who is into pee play, and for whom pissing is much more than releasing urine, the yellow bandana is their color. Modern hanky code adds a pale yellow color reserved for spit fetish.

Red

For anyone into fisting, they should wear red. While fisting can be interesting even when you do it solo, the more, the merrier. In modern hanky code, dark red is for people looking for double-handed fisting, so be sure to wear an appropriate shade of red to avoid surprises.

Grey

If you thought of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you were correct. The color grey is perfect for anyone who is into bondage. There are so many different types and techniques of rope play, so be sure to talk to your partner to find the one that suits both of you.

Orange

No, you don’t need to put an orange in your pocket. Orange (the color not the fruit) means that the person is into anything and anytime. However, this only applies if you wear an orange bandana on your left side. If you wear it on the right, it means “nothing now,” and it shows that you are only cruising.

Purple

The meaning behind purple bandana or a handkerchief is piercings. Puncturing or cutting a part of the body to add jewelry can be fun. There are so many people out there who love piercings, and if you are one of them, now you know what color code is perfect for you and this kink.

Fuchsia

If you are not familiar with fancy names for colors, fuchsia is purplish red that got its name from the plant with the same name. The color represents people who enjoy spanking, and, similarly to other entries on the list, the left is for spanker while the right side is for spankee.

Green

As you can imagine, there are so many shades of green, and each can mean a different thing. Regular green is for hustlers, prostitution, or renting, while hunter green is for anyone looking for a “daddy” or similar type of play. You can also encounter olive green, which is for military play. Finally, there is the lime if a person wants to share a dinner with someone. Lime bandana on the right side means that the person will buy dinner, by the way.

Gold

Gold is a color that shows that the person is looking for a threesome. Wearing it on the left side means that two people are looking for one while wearing it on the right side means that one person is looking for two.

White

Wearing white means that you are into masturbation. And no, it doesn’t mean that you should wear white if you stay at home. The side you wear a white handkerchief on will determine whether you want to receive handjobs or to give them.

Pink

In some hanky codes, color pink represents searching for a unicorn or people who are looking to have a threesome with a heterosexual couple. However, it is possible to find that light pink means that the person loves playing with dildos as well.

Other Colors

As we previously mentioned, some of the colors are from “The Leatherman’s Handbook,” while others are included in modern hanky codes. There are no rules, and you can find different meanings in some. You can probably find a color suitable for any type of kink, so be sure to check if there is one that’s perfect for you.

Colors and Collars

But wearing handkerchiefs or bandanas is not the only way to send a message. Collars have an important part in the BDSM community, and sometimes, their color can mean something as well. Collars are part of clothing and are either fastened or locked around the wearer’s neck. The submissive person will often wear a collar as a sign of complete surrender, but it is not limited to the dominant/submissive relationships only. People will often wear something more appropriate in public, like chokers or necklaces.

It is common to see a person wearing a black collar that doesn’t represent their fetishes, and it doesn’t show whether they are kinky or not. However, some will follow the “code” and wear collars of a specific color to represent the type of relationship.

Collar of Consideration

While this might sound like a rare item from an RPG, it is actually similar to the pre-engagement ring. It doesn’t even have to be a collar, and the person can wear a bracelet, anklet, or a waist chain. Traditionally, however, the collar of consideration is made of leather, and its color is blue.

The goal here is to show that the dominant is interested in the submissive person, and by accepting the collar, the sub will show that the interest is mutual. That also means that the submissive is not available for the period of consideration, and other dominants won’t pursue them.

Training Collar

The second stage of collaring is training. The dominant agrees to teach the sub, and the sub becomes willing to learn. They will go together through standards and desires, and their connection will deepen. While it is possible to break this “engagement,” it can be quite painful for both parties if their relationship becomes deeper. The color of the training collar is often red or black.

Slave Collar

The slave collar is the final part of the journey, and it is offered after the couple went through the first two phases. Many consider this collar equal to the wedding ring, and in BDSM communities, these collars are considered permanent. It is worth mentioning that not every community follows these rules, and the colors may change based on the couple. They also don’t have to follow color coding at all, and they can go through all these steps wearing any collars they want.

Summary

Since the mid-seventies, many people in the U.S. wore bandanas to show their gay colors. Originally, the idea was to find like-minded people with a simple piece of cloth. Based on the side you’re wearing it, you could show your sexual preferences. Today, this color coding became popular not only among gay people but for everyone looking to find someone who shares the same kinks and fetishes.


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