From the 1930s right up to today, pockct handkerchiefs remain symbols oj sartorial gentility.
11 Ma) 1957 Apparel,\rts. the men s fashion bible, declared the pocket handkerchiefs index of fashion change." In other words, w hen elegance periodically returned to the forefront of men s fash ion, so did the pull of pattern in man's breast pocket. As with other artifacts of sartorial polish, like I rench cuffs or a collar bar. the jacket's chest handkerchief adds a finishing touch to the- ensemble Puring the early Renaissance, handkerchiefs were considered an essential and func tipnal accessory. As the sixteenth centun intellectual giant Erasmus noted "To wipe your nose 011 your sleeve was boorish.' I landkerchiels graduall) became more ornate eventual!) serving as tokens ol a couple's love for each other. I ver\ respectable male carried a handkerchief and to this day. it is considered a s\ mbol ol gentility and social rank
In eighteenth ^century England, the popular snuff habit and its concomitant art of con raining a sneeze brought mens hanks into the draw ing room. B\ the nineteenth centun the ordi nary American farmer in the Deep South was mopping his brow with .1 cotton version of the original silk print imported from India The tra dition for colored handkerchiefs graduall) gal loped southw est along w ith the cowbov
The Roaring twenties saw a sharp rise in decorative handkerchiefs as the Prince of Wales endorsed the fad for bright silks I he more stylish dresser harmonized Ins hank and tie but did not match its fabric or color W\ the thirties, well dressed men carried two of these apparel staples.
Immediate access to a handkerchief is crucial, w hether to head off that unexpected sneeze or to mop up spilled champagne i ^ur ing World War I. uniformed officers with tightly flapped pockets cached their handker chiefs within their coat sleeves \s the lounge jacket with its breast pocket supplanted the frock coat, the "one for blowin' was safel) tucked awa\ in the unflapped rear trousei pocket w hile the "one for show in'" w as perma nentl) displayed in the jacket s breast pockct since the advent of the men s lounge suit in the late nineteenth centun. all trad« ttonallv tailored coats have featured an appro priately angled chest pocket not lor cigarettes or a pair ol reading glasses, but to display a bit of tin^li Without some form of pocket rigging, an outside breast pocket appears superfluous, and the outfit incomplete.
In the halcyon period of male elegance, one would be hard pressed to find a photo of one of the "boys without a properly dressed chest pocket. For each of these Promethean dressers the pocket hank afforded yet another opportunity to express his own individuality I he pocket handkerchief is part of the minutiae of male style that conveys more than just tra dition. the manner in w hich it is display ed can be as distinguishing as its selection.
On the follow ing page, the Duke of W indsor's sublime chic resided in the ease and natu ralness w ith w hich he wore clothes, pocket decor included. Though the I Hike folded his neatly, he wore them at odd angles within the breast pocket. Other famed fashionables added their own twist Can Grant moored his sodiscreeth that its one comer slants toward his face, contrary to its customary angle pointing out toward the shoulder. I red Astaire liked to wear his silk squares in a puft fold that he allegedly invented. Gary Cooper sported his as if an afterthought, w hich hob nobbed happily w ith his curled up collars and casually askew neckties.
Male habiliment is a daily intimacy that publicly transmits inscrutably private messages. While permanent fashions like the shepherd's check necktie, the camel hair polo coat, or black call opera pumps nre a lew of this stylistic language's better known eye cues, so is the simple white handkerchief. Today most men avoid donning one. fearing that they will do it incorrectlv. badly or both. Images where the handkerchief is so conspicuous t hat it appears ready to balloon into space or poised as a table napkin reinforce the average man's dread of the potential faux pas. Io the less sophisticated man. the pocket square may seem an effete flourish, y et a casually folded
clockwise from top left:
The Duke staged his. Cary Grant irregularly angled his. ¡•'red A st a ire puff folded his. and Gary Cooper plopped his.
white handkerchief offers the quickest and least expensive way to lend a mediocre suit a more expensiv e look
Since most dressy suits are paired with solid white, blue, or white ground patterned dress shirts, this color format affords the simple white handkerchief ample opportunity to prov ide all the basic pomp needed. Therefore, the first order of business is to learn how to properly sport one of these w hite numbers.
Though the folding of a hank requires mindful care, like the ty ing of a bow tie. the most important thing ro remember is that its deport ment should appear unstudied, effortlessly contributing ro the overall aplomb. Particularly because of its stark counterpoint ro the dark suit, the white linen square needs to be irregularly arranged with its points neither mathematically exact nor flattened as it pressed w irh a rolling iron. I ike a good haircut, the best folded squares are those that do nor draw attention to themselves. One way ro encourage this lack of contrivance is ro angle the hank slightly outward toward the shoulder. This positioning not only reinforces the diagonal lines of the jacket s lapel but accentuates the chest's "\ shape and shoulders' breadth
Although long considered somew hat passe, the square TV" fold gained popularity back in the 1950s when several of America's television celebri ties began to crease theirs in such a manner. Though President I larry S. Truman, a former haberdasher, adopted the same sty le, the trend failed to endure, probably because its purposeful symmetry contravened the art form's underlying spontaneity.
The best size for the pocket handkerchief is the 16-to i<X inch square, and. like the subtle hand stitched edge of a finely tailored jacket lapel, its exposed points and edges need ro be rolled and stitched by hand for genuine refinement. I lereare a tew ways ro fold the solid linen square
Conspicuous pocket decor detracts from the whole.
Was this article helpful?