Seems it started back when the west was wild, the men were plentiful and the women, not-so-much. Due to the lack of women in the wild west, some cowboys and miners resorted to dancing with one another at the square dances. A handkerchief worn on one side of the body indicated that person was dancing the woman's part while a handkerchief worn on the other side indicated that person was dancing the man's part. Obviously there would have been some cowboys way more interested in dancing the woman's part than others, but I digress. Even though cowboys are incredibly hot, right? Who doesn't like the iconic image of a quiet man who just gets the job done?
This eventually evolved into a code used by gay subculture groups to indicate various preferences for sexual acts. During the sexually free times that were the 1970's, you could have sex with someone without even speaking to them. Of course we can still do that, but our knowledge of AIDS has changed that. But back then, imagine how you got dressed for an evening out. You weren't just picking out the right pair of Wranglers. It was a bit more complicated than that.
First you had to decide if you were a Top or a bottom or a switch. No matter what your color hanky, it went on the right if you were into receiving. Givers flagged right. If you wore a black bandanna on the left side of your body (or knotted around your neck with the knot on the left side) you were telling those in the know that you were a top into SM without ever speaking a sentence – sort of like Tops wearing their keys on the left side of their bodies. This is not as prevalent today, but if you go to the right clubs, you will still see it in use.
Colors were used to indicate exactly what you would like from your partner. The color code itself varies widely and some fetish shops even sell bandanas with a listing of the meaning of each color. Because there are so many kinks, there are a lot of colors. There's even a doily one! Kid you not. Thanks to the advent of the Smartphone, you don't have to worry about not knowing. You can load up the Hanky Code app so you can discretely check what that silver lame` hanky on the right might mean.
So, in Needing Harte Ramey Nichols could wear any of the following colors: black (SM), dark blue (anal sex), light blue (oral sex), medium blue (into uniforms – either wearing them or having sex with someone else wearing one), light pink (dildos), robin's egg blue (69), deep aqua (sex in the water/shower) or fuchsia (spanking). Any or all of these colors worn on the right side of his body would indicate Ramey was open for any of the above as a receiver or bottom.
Harte, on the other hand, could have worn black, fuchsia, grey, dark blue, light blue, robin's egg blue and possibly medium blue on the left side, indicating he was open to topping in any of those combinations. Neither one of them would have flagged with a ziploc baggie though.
In All Tied Up, our Merry Kinkmas story, our Master Darling would definitely wear gray on the left at a minimum while Wendy could have gone left or right on several colors. You can learn more about the hanky code here. Have some fun with this. Pick up any of the hot 1-800-DOM-help books today. As you read it, keep that hanky code handy. What would you wear if you were going out tonight?