When the filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich passed away earlier this year, I immersed myself in as much of his work as I could. That meant watching a few films he directed, all of which I’ve seen multiple times. But Bogdonavich—because of his his output, but also the mystique he created for himself that people could describe as “witty, debonair, and cocksure” and it didn’t come off as silly—meant a lot to me, so I decided to take my tribute one step further. I went to my drawer, pulled out one of the bandanas I keep in there, folded it into a triangle, rolled it and tied it around my neck—the same way Bogdanovich always wore them, in what became his trademark look. I thought I’d just do it for the day, but then I did it again, and again, and all of a sudden the bandana/ascot/neckerchief was a thing I was doing regularly.
Getting into neckwear of any kind can seem daunting. Lately we’ve seen guys wearing everything from long chains to “kooky jewlery” with colorful beads or charms. But neckerchief—sometimes a simple cotton bandana, sometimes a proper silk ascot—feels like something a little more intense. Perhaps that’s because it’s got a long celebrity history: Bogdanovich made it his thing for decades, as did Marlon Brando and James Baldwin. More recently Tyler, the Creator has been seen rocking a handkerchief around his neck, as has Harry Styles. Big shoes (big necks?) to fill.
A certain amount of bandana apprehension makes sense. It’s an accessory associated with cowboys and train robbers. Maybe Axl Rose or Tupac pop into your mind. Guys who are into westernwear tend to like bandanas; writerly types like me…do not. And so Bogdanovich served as a perfect bandana role model: the guy started out as a film critic and turned into a director Occasionally I’ll write about movies, not direct them. But we’re both bespectacled, rather Jewish-looking guys. It didn’t feel like a big leap.
Personally, I’m partial to the rolled bandana over wearing it open like you’re preparing to rob a bank in the old West. And I like a true bandana more than a scarf or an ascot because it feels a little more down to earth. This is a crucial distinction for me, as it was for Peter Bogdonavich: When pressed in interviews, he’d always note that it was a bandana and not an ascot. The ascot is a fine accessory, but it’s not for everybody. They weren’t for Bogdanovich, and I don’t think they’re for me, either. I’d love to think I’m fancy, but I’m not. As he put it once, wearing a bandana “seemed like a nice thing to do.” That’s a good, simple philosophy in general for getting dressed: think about whether it’s nice or not and go from there.