SPC: What’s in your back pocket?

jimhanky copy

Psst. Would you folks like to have a lil peek into the history of modern body piercing?

Are you familiar with the Hanky Code?

According to Wikipedia, the Hanky code is:

“… a color-coded system, employed usually among the gay male casual-sex seekers or BDSM practitioners in the leather subculture in the United States, Canada, and Europe, to indicate preferred sexual fetishes, what kind of sex they are seeking, and whether they are a top/dominant or bottom/submissive. The hanky code was widely used in the 1970s by gay and bisexual men, and grew from there to include all genders and orientations.”


When Body Piercing was first coming out of the closet in the United States it had a close connection to the BDSM/Leather Communities; it gained momentum alongside the sexual freedom movement and when Jim Ward- legendary piercer, owner of the Gauntlet and editor of PFIQ reasoned that piercing devotees should have their own color in the code, the answer was obvious:

 I didn’t have to look too far for inspiration—purple, the color associated with Jupiter, the planet associated in astrology with prosperity and good fortune; purple, the color draping Catholic and Anglican churches during Holy Week when they commemorate the day their deity got pierced. It seemed ideal to me..

Jim sent a letter recommending purple to DRUMMER Magazine declaring that the hanky for piercing ought to be purple and through time and reinforcement it stuck (bad pun?). To this day the hanky code color for Body Piercing remains purple.

You can find out more about Jim Ward and the origins of western body piercing by picking up his indispensable book RUNNING THE GAUNTLET, which is available through the author himself. Running the Gauntlet Webstore Portal.

377714_4397120693666_450451457_nShawn has spent the majority of his ife in the modification world.
In addition to writing poorly for Modblog, he also edits the often neglected Scarwars site, the more frequently updated Occult Vibrations tattoo blog as well as his personal diary at Sacred Debris. He lives in Philadelphia with his faithful Italian Greyhound Bailey, his roommate Megh and a steadily growing Pushead collection

20 thoughts on “SPC: What’s in your back pocket?

  1. “The hanky code was widely used in the 1970s by gay and bisexual men, and grew from there to include all genders and orientations.”

    And that’s where it stayed. At the clubs, nobody under 55 bothers with this – it’s much better to hook up through a website where you can get a basic idea of the person and their interests before choosing to meet. The few I’ve seen are intended to show an interest in leather, or “bears” (fat & hairy).

    Straight people do not use the hanky code, plain and simple.

  2. It’s neither plain nor simple my friend, so we’ll have to agree to disagree.
    Younger people have adopted the hanky code; bi, queer, straight and gay alike. Perhaps it’s best to get OFF of the social networking sites and into real life and you’ll see a whole new generation embracing the code.

  3. I’m 27 and more into this scene than 99.99% of kinksters and attend plenty of `events` [of all sorts]; 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t even come close.

    I can tell you for a fact that I have seen *3* people use of the hankie code in 5 years – only one under 40. And really, what is the point of some young stud walking into The Eagle and finding some old creep who has a blue and white striped bandanna sticking out his ass? Recon, GearFetish and Fetlife and let you quickly & easily find like-minded kinksters, 24/7/365, so why hang out in some expensive, nasty-ass bar?

    When was the last time you hung out in a Manhattan club or gay bar? Baby when I walk in I light the place up like a rainbow. I’m going to a fet party tomorrow near Times Square – and I’m gonna be dressed brighter than the lights on Broadway =)

  4. The last time I was in a gay bar- a gay leather bar- was when I ended my work week on Monday. On Jockstrap night. Where a decent amount of folks had hankies. The next time I’m going to a gay leather bar will be tonight when I go to work. I’m under 40 and I’ll be flagging yellow.

    We hang out with real people versus online people to have a sense of community. I’d rather laugh out loud than LOL, but whatever floats your boat.

  5. Sadly, it is -because- of the websites that the `community` has died :-( Only the creepers and serious aficionados show up. Wearing a chest harness doesn’t count as `fetish` ^_^

    Nobody dresses up for code night – how lame! The best events are private and are organized.. you guessed it… online. I’ve gone to play parties hosted by an NYPD officer which included a Marine and a priest (all in one party!) Paddles is cool too, but $40 or $50 to get in…

  6. This is the problem with the internet generation. Instead of thanking Shaun for posting your readers go right for negativity. As a fat & hairy bear that Mickey Mouse would probably consider an old creep I see hankies every time I go out. More on gay men than straight, but it is certainly not extinct. I’m glad that you’re 99.999% more into the scene at 27 than some of us old farts who’ve been into it wearing our harnesses since before you were born and that the sun shines out of your ass when you enter a leather bar, but why don’t you just try to be appreciative of whats posted instead of being an internet troll.

  7. Let us be real here. Just because in your club no one uses ‘the code’ does not mean in the club’s two blocks over that everyone there uses it. While I myself have been around a bit, I have never noticed said code, but that does not mean it was not in use in places where I did not go. HOWEVER, what was common in the 1970′s and 1980′s, the heterosexual population assumed anyone (male) with an ear ring was GAY and the fact is, gay men would put a ring on one side or the other to tell others if they were a top or bottom. It took me a few years to get past that stigma on a personal level and actually be ‘brave’ enough to get my 1st piercings. What a Het male did not want to have perceived about him is that he might be gay as that was a death knell to anyone who wanted to have a lot of opposite sex sexual partners, which in those times I was very into. My 1st piercing? 1986

  8. Hey, it’s almost like different scenes do different things! I’ve never seen a hanky, but I’m sure they’re out there.

    Being a young lass myself, I wonder exactly how strictly codified it was/is. Were the colors the same across the country?

  9. i am a straight guy, a piercer and have worked with the BDSM community on play piercing education and safety on several occasions, to the point i was given a plaque thanking me from the last group for efforts in the community. while i know about the hanky’s, i rarely see them in my area and im not sure id even know what to wear (is there a “straight guy” hanky?).

    this is a good article, and informative for the younger crowd to “learn your roots” as it were. i appreciate greatly SP’s dedication to the history of the bodmod life!

  10. Though i rarely go out to leather bars/clubs anymore, i can say that at the yearly leather runs i prefer to attend, the hanky code is alive and well. And it always makes me smile to see people flagging. To me, it is beautiful. my fear is that it will indeed fade into obscurity.

    Thanks for the post, and for making an old leather dyke feel included.

  11. This is a great post for ModBlog!
    We do need to help educate the youngsters. Not all are driven to know their roots like some. Has anyone noticed that young hipster/bicycle types wear hanky’s, Fashion now? At least in the Northwest they seem to.
    29, married, piercer and usually always have a hanky.
    I had Paul King come up to me last year at APP asking if I knew I was flagging. I smiled and said I did.

  12. Flagging is alive and well in OKC. Almost every weekend, and some weekdays you can find someone flagging in the local bars. Mind you these are GLBT friendly bars too, so the code of conduct is known more than the regular straight bars here – although I have seen some people flag there as well. I sometimes ask them if they know they are flagging, some give blank stares, others know exactly what I’m talking about.

    One of the sites I commonly refer to for meaning of hankys is this one – http://www.gaycityusa.com/hankycodes.htm

  13. Thanks everyone!
    The little blurb was s’posed to be a little bit of trivia for the sake of fun; I’m glad that some of you took it as such. You sort of have to expect the internet version of the Simpsons Comic Book Guy to pop in and give you some ‘facts’ but hell, life is more fun when you have someone trolling.

    I did indeed wear my yellow hanky to work last night and saw a few others flagging, so… endangered list maybe, but extinct? nah. Not yet.

    And yes- the code is the code for the most part. The original handful of colors are easily recognizable anywhere in the world, though as the code got bigger (black silk with gold lightening bolts?) it’s gotten a lot more confusing.

    The basics are still classics, and if you can’t decide how many to wear, there’s always orange!

  14. I’ve seen it used, but rarely, I do see it at toronto pride, I am married and 99.5% monogamous… so I don’t see a point, I think the queers have lost their sense of community because why be discreet when you can be anonymous on craigslist? I do think it’s usually older folks or events, but it exists, I usually see brown or yellow and giggle, wondering if they know…

  15. Neat bit of trivia about the whole Jesus thing. I like it!

    I’m going to a gay pride festival in a couple days and I’ll be flagging (black, purple, and yellow on the right, hell yeah). I’m doing it not to pick people up, but just as sort of a personal identity thing. I don’t really tell many people what I’m into, so I expect it’ll be sort of liberating for me. I’m also really disappointed with how tame so many pride events have gotten, and I think it’s important that all this freaky stuff is out there, so it’s also my teeny little attempt to introduce it into the public sphere a bit more. So yeah, perhaps we can say that it’s largely become archaic in clubs and bars, but that there might be evolving uses for it.

  16. I use the hanky code a bunch. I wear grey, black, dark blue and red on the right. I actually cut up 3 of the 4 hankies so I dind’t have to stuff so much fabric into my pocket, the last one I left whole because, yanno, you need a hankie every now and then. Sometimes I’ll tie them around the top of my boot if I’m wearing a skirt.

  17. At least where I live, flagging’s being picked up again by younger folks. I’m a 27 y.o. femme dyke and I flag and a bunch of my friends do, too. I wear black or navy blue on the left. If I don’t have pockets, I’ll tie ‘em to my boots, wrist, or the strap of my bag. It’s just a way of being visible to other queers.

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