If you go to a kink event where there is some kind of “Leather” presence (and that’s Leather, not leather) , you’re going to notice a lot of hankerchiefs dangling out of back pockets. At first this may seem just like some kind of fashion accessory, but if you watch closely, you may see something magical happen – two people with similar colored hankies can see each other from across the room, smile, approach, and start talking. If you see that, check for one more thing: are their hankies in opposite pockets?
If so, odds are those two are about to start negotiating for play.
The hanky code is a legacy of the leathermen and leather bars in the same spirit of Lee Harrington’s homily “Sole/Soul.” It is a part of a kinkster’s identity, a statement of who they are just as much as a collar or a cover.
So what does a hankerchief mean?
The first thing to consider is where it’s being carried. Generally, wearing the hankie in the left pocket means you’re interested in doing the activity to someone else; having it in the right pocket means you’re interested in receiving it from someone else. Loosely translated in a BDSM context that can mean top or bottom; in some cases it may even imply dominance and submission (which happens to be signified by a black hankerchief).
Switches may carry two hankies, one in each pocket, or simply tuck one right in the center of their back over their belt. The “hanky code” is also not limited to the fabric squares; arm bands, chevrons on leather, even laces on boots are all used to “flag” what a person is into. You’re also not limited to one hankie; some people have layers of hankies in their pockets, or chain them into belts or even body harnesses.
The next thing to consider is the color. Some basic and fairly agreed-upon colors for what hankies signify are:
Red – Fisting
Yellow – Piss Play
Black – Heavy D/s
Gray – Rope Bondage
Green – Daddy
Pink – Mommy
Tan – Cigars
White – Cum
Light Blue – Oral sex
Dark Blue – Police fantasy
Camo – Outdoor sex
Purple – Needles
Orange – Anything
The thing to be careful of is that “fairly agreed upon” is very dependent on location. For example, in the kink convention community silver lamé has come to signify “star fucker”, studded leather means “title holder” and rainbow can mean “gender queer”. Other patterns include things like a paw print or doggie bones to signify puppy play, red and white stripes (similar to a barber chair) for shaving or even the amusing “tire track” pattern for “thrown under the bus.”
The difficulty can come when shades of color come into question. Is that a tan signifying cigars, or brown satin signifying an uncut cock? Is it dark red for two-handed fisting, or maroon for enema play? Is it a right-hand yellow hanky because they want to enjoy some piss play, or is it more mustard-colored because they’re a size queen when it comes to dildos? Thanks to the Internet, you can access dozens of different “hanky code” charts, which may or may not agree on what each color actually means.
Worse, with some of the activities, it can be difficult to figure out what the left/right indication means. If it’s a white hankerchief, it may mean cum, it may mean masturbation…but does the left mean “I like making you cum” or “I like making myself cum”? Even something as simple as the light-blue oral sex flag can be confusing: does the top “do” the act or “receive” it?
The way to get through all the confusion is to remember that the hanky code should be the start of a conversation, not the end of one. “I noticed that you have a gray hanky. Into rope bondage? What kind?” is a great way to start a conversation. On the other hand “You have a green hanky! We have nothing in common!” would be a sad error to make. Flagging a hanky is a lot like wearing a t-shirt from your favorite band: it’s a statement of something you like, but certainly not the only thing.
Like community interaction, avoid making assumptions about people and be aware that your own declaration may be misunderstood. There’s also no requirement to wear a hanky at all. It is simply an occasionally useful fashion accessory. They can be fun statements of identity, or a speedier way to attract like-minded individuals and get to enjoying the kink that you want. Thanks to the gay leathermen of the 70’s, it has become a part of kink culture that everyone can enjoy as much or as little as they like.
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