Pocket squares are one feature of a sharp-looking custom suits that some men are unfamiliar with. Take for example, the history of the pocket square. Did you know that ancient Greeks were using handkerchiefs as far back as 500 B.C.? Or that the British and French used the handkerchief for personal hygiene? Or that the French word “couvrechef” (from which the word “handkerchief” was derived) means “head cover”? The word referred to the pieces of fabric that the French watched Chinese field-workers place on their heads to protect themselves during long hours of working in the sun. Handkerchiefs’ hygienic uses can be traced through history. Wealthy Europeans would even cover their mouths and noses with scented handkerchiefs to block the stench of waste in public.
These handkerchiefs transitioned into a suit accessory during the 1920s. Men still carried handkerchiefs for either their own or their lovely lady’s personal hygiene, but started placing the unused “pocket squares” initially into their suit breast pocket to keep them out of their dirty trouser pockets. Once it had been used, the handkerchief was then placed out of view in the man’s trouser pocket. This practice began to fade during the middle of the twentieth century however, with the introduction of disposable “handkerchiefs” (thanks to Kleenex). Kleenex may have knocked out handkerchiefs for a time, but they soon returned in their modern incarnation as stylish pocket squares. Some well-prepared gentlemen still carry a handkerchief for personal hygiene, and the most altruistic of these men carry an extra for the leading lady in their life.
Today, pocket squares are worn for mainly aesthetic purposes. A pocket square can help complement a dapper tuxedo or suit, or it might simply be added to a casual sports coat and provide a hint of color. Just like with ties, there are pocket squares made of every color and pattern imaginable. The choice one makes often comes down to personal style. Here a few tips to help you effectively incorporate a pocket square into your outfit:
- Don’t get too matchy. Avoid matching exactly the color or especially the pattern of your pocket square to the suit, shirt or tie. The pocket square should provide a nice hint of color without looking like your outfit came off a department store shelf or you’re dressing for homecoming. A good rule of thumb for pocket squares: match the color to one color from your tie. This will add some pop to your outfit while still keeping the pocket square connected to the other articles you’ve chosen. The photo above is a great example of this technique in action (the picture below, not so much).
- When in doubt, go with white. The white pocket square is the easiest and safest way to add a touch of class to an already fantastic suit. Anyone who’s watched an episode of Mad Men has seen how well Don Draper wears the white square. White pocket squares go with all suit and tie colors, styles and patterns. If you’re just experimenting with pocket squares, get a white linen or silk one and see how well it completes your suit.
- Use it as a tie substitute. If you’re attending an event that requires you to dress up but you’re afraid a tie will be too much, then simply add a pocket square to a casual sport coat. The pocket square will add color and variety to your outfit, but won’t make you seem as stuffy as a tie might.
We realize that pocket squares can seem a little strange to guys who’ve never used them before. Don’t worry about it. If you’re starting out, simply fold a white pocket square into your suit next time you go out and you’ll be amazing at how it completes your look. You’ll stand out without being flashy. It’s a great period to the sentence that is your sharp suit.And don’t worry – we realize we haven’t touched on the numerous ways to fold pocket squares. Rest assured we will be covering that topic in a future post.