A Short History of Pocket Squares
Pocket squares are making an impressive comeback. They’re everywhere, in a range of materials, colours and patterns, ready to be folded in all sorts of creative ways. This tiny piece of fabric is an excellent way to add a personal touch to your suit and upgrade your entire look.
But how did it all begin?
It’s impossible to write about the history of pocket squares without acknowledging their humble ancestor: the handkerchief. Ancient Egyptians carried small square cloths made from linen, which we assume were used for their personal hygiene, but strangely enough some of them were dyed. This wouldn’t have served any practical purpose so the reason must have been aesthetic. In ancient Greece, the wealthy covered their mouths and noses with perfumed cotton handkerchiefs, a habit that lasted until medieval times, to protect them from unpleasant smells and airborne diseases. In ancient Rome, the drop of a handkerchief signalled the start of the gladiatorial games.
Handkerchiefs have been around for thousands of years. But how did they gradually evolve from a necessity to an accessory? People have always used fashion to stand out and project their status and wealth. While the poor carried simple cloths to wipe away sweat after endless hours of manual labour, the rich invested in expensive materials and decorated their handkerchiefs with fine lace and elaborate embroidery. Some were so precious that they were valued as works of art. Ladies would offer them to the knights who stole their heart or wave them to show their approval in public events while royal courts favoured them as gifts.
The turning point, however, was the 19th century. As suits became the staple of men’s fashion, the handkerchief moved from the trousers’ pocket to the jacket’s breast pocket for the whole world to see. Many gentlemen even carried two separate handkerchiefs, one as an accessory and another for more practical uses until the manufacturing of disposable tissues obliterated any need for a reusable cloth to wipe one’s nose or face. And, so, the pocket square was born and it accompanied men’s suits for decades before briefly losing its appeal in the eighties and nineties.
So what does a gentleman need to know about pocket squares?
- Pocket squares come with a rolled hem or piping which distinguishes them from handkerchiefs.
- When you buy a pocket square, bear in mind that the ones made from lighter fabrics tend to slide down your breast pocket so they need to be bigger.
- If your tie is a solid (single) colour, your pocket square can be the same colour. If your tie is patterned, the pocket square should feature secondary colours from your tie’s palette.
- Finally, it’s important to practice How To Fold Your Pocket Square and try different options for different occasions. The presidential and the puff fold are two essential techniques for every beginner.