What Is A Pocket Square And Why?
Today I thought to go in depth about an accessory that one of our most colorful employees by the name of Arthur is never caught without in his daily wardrobe. That namely being the Pocket Square or Pocket Silk. Just what is it and why.
The first handkerchief solely for the face was used in conjunction with religion. These early handkerchiefs, called “facials,” were simply small pieces of silk tissue used by priests at the altar and then left there when the service was completed.
In early times the handkerchief functioned both as a utilitarian accessory and as a showy dress item, carried in the hand as opposed to being tucked into a pocket. By the time of the early Renaissance, handkerchiefs were considered an essential accessory, prompting Erasmus to note that “To wipe your nose on your sleeve is boorish.” Soon handkerchiefs became more ornate, at which point they also began to serve as tokens of a man’s love for a woman, and vice versa.
Originally, the Romans used the “orarium” and “sudarium” to wipe their faces and mouths. These were sumptuous cloths that were impregnated with perfume and would be worn around the neck, on the shoulder or in the hand. The pocket-handkerchief is in fact only 400 years old. It was the ingenious idea of an aristocratic Venetian lady to cut a square out of pure flax and then to decorate it with lace. She showed it in the course of a promenade in a public garden, where the delicate handkerchief excited the general curiosity of the on lookers. From Italy, the handkerchief soon crossed the Alps and spread through France where it found a great success with the lords and ladies in the court of Henry II. The handkerchief of this period was made with the most expensive fabrics, adorned with embroidery, and were objects of great luxury. It isn’t until about 1850 that Germany adopted the handkerchief, but was only used by royalty and the very rich. Up until the 18th century, the handkerchief came in many forms: it might be square, round, triangular, etc. One day at Versailles, Marie-Antoinette made the observation that the squared form would be more esthetically pleasing and convenient, Louis XVI therefore published a decree ordering the length of handkerchiefs produced in the kingdom would be equal to their width.
It is quite obvious that the early pocket squares had more of a practical than a fashionable purpose. They were not displayed in the breast pocket of a jacket as men do today. So how did this, more modern way, of showing pocket squares come into fashion? It is said that this was made popular during the 1920s – an area that many fashion experts call the “high times of mens style and fashion”. It is said that initially men put a clean pocket square in their breast pocket not as a fashion accessory, but to keep it clean until it is needed. Then, once used, the pocket square would end up inside a pants pocket. Then in 1924, the year the Kleenex company was founded, the linen handkerchief was replaced by a disposable tissue paper one. The practical use of linen pocket squares was on the decline. What stayed was the pocket square as a fashion accessory.
By the turn of this century, handkerchiefs made of silk, linen, or cotton were de rigueur for the breast pocket of a gentleman’s suit jacket, and he could not be considered properly dressed without one. Of course, during the 1960s most men eschewed handkerchiefs in their breast pockets, but today – as in the 1930s – they are still the choice of the well-dressed gentleman.
The suit jacket is made with a left breast pocket not to hold pack of cigarettes or a pair of glasses but to hold a handkerchief. Without one, an outside breast pocket appears to be an unnecessary detail, and a man looks as if he hasn’t finished dressing.
A simple white handkerchief is all that is necessary to complete the business ensemble. It is also the least expensive way a man can quickly elevate his level of style. The handkerchief, like the hose, gives a man one more opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary, something a bit more inventive. A white handkerchief placed in the breast pocket of a dark suit offers a touch of elegance and is sure sign of a confident and knowledgeable dresser.
The finest white handkerchiefs are made of linen with hand- rolled edges. While they are difficult to find today, they are worth searching for. The virtue of linen is that because of its inherent stiffness, it retains its starched quality throughout the day. It is the only handkerchief fabric that looks as fresh in the evening as it did in the morning, when it was first folded.
While a white linen handkerchief is the easiest choice for many, since it is always proper, for those more adventuresome dressers, there are handkerchiefs in colors and patterns. In this case, it is generally the tie that is the determining factor in choosing the proper pocket square. The pocket square must complement the tie, though it should never directly match it in pattern or color. Some of the nicest colored handkerchiefs are made of linen in traditional Oxford shirting colors, or in pure white with colored borders. Another possibility is silk. These come in a wide array of solid colors. But instead of solids, wear silk in the traditional English ancient madder patterns, such as paisley or foulard. The colors in these are muted and give a more subtle effect.
If your tie is of silk, a handkerchief of a dry linen fabric looks best, while if your tie is of wool or cotton, silk in the breast pocket will add the proper textural balance to the chest area.
There are several ways to fold a handkerchief. The multi-pointed and the triangle effect are certainly the most elegant and are for use with handkerchiefs of linen or cotton with hand-rolled edges. Silk handkerchiefs look better with the puffed method. The square end (or TV fold), a popular style in the 1940s and `50s, seems a little staid today. Yet whatever method is chosen, the placing of the handkerchief must not appear overly studied. The material should show above the pocket no more than an inch to an inch and a half.
So there you have it from a utilitarian useful piece of cloth to now a symbol of a well dressed man. Most importantly if you do use a pocket silk, make sure it is folded correctly. Men being a visual animal the video below from our friends at you-tube will help make your job of inserting the pock square to your breast pocket.
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- How To Fold a Pocket Square (howcast.com)
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