early 14c., riban, ribane, from Anglo-French rubain, Old French riban "a ribbon," variant of ruban (13c.), a word of unknown origin, possibly from a Germanic compound whose second element is related to band (n.1); compare Middle Dutch ringhband "necklace."
The modern spelling is from mid-16c. Originally a stripe in a material; the sense of "narrow woven band of some find material" for ornamental or other purposes is by 1520s. The word was extended to other long, thin, flexible strips by 1763; the meaning "ink-soaked strip wound on a spool for use on a typewriter" is by 1883. A a torn strip of anything (fabric, clouds, etc.) by 1820. As a verb, "adorn with ribbons," by 1716. Related: Ribboned. The custom of wearing colored ribbon loops on the lapel to declare support for some group perceived as suffering or oppressed began in 1991 with AIDS red ribbons.