The Pocket Square is one of the oldest fashion accessories that is still commonly used in modern times. Originally meant to serve as a handkerchief, the pocket square’s use as a fashion accessory is largely attributed to Richard II in the 14th Century.
In more recent eras (around the late 19th Century), the pocket square has gained popularity and has transitioned to exclusively being for show rather than having a practical use. As a result, many suit-wearing individuals have begun to carry a separate handkerchief in addition to the pocket square.
So what’s the difference? What are the perks to having both?
We’ll answer both those questions shortly.
It’s About Its Chief Purpose
Handkerchiefs are extremely versatile when it comes to utility and functionality. Food on your face and no napkin? Wipe it away with a handkerchief. See a friend tearing up at a sad movie? Let them dry their eyes with your handkerchief. Have a cold? Discreetly blow your nose without contributing to the landfills.
Basically, the handkerchief is the working, useful version of the pocket square that no one sees or wants to look at. It does the dirty work you don’t want to do with the pocket square. It’s akin to a working dog versus a show dog: one looks good and can do the work while the other does the work and aesthetics don’t matter. That said, some handkerchief designs can pair nicely with certain suit and tie combinations.
The handkerchief has been less popular in recent decades with the increase in facial tissues and disposable napkins. It makes sense as the most common use for a handkerchief is to blow or wipe your nose and it seems more hygienic to just throw away a tissue rather than keep the mucus for later.
Despite this, handkerchiefs are an easy and inexpensive option to step up your grooming essential game as you can continue to wash and reuse them for months or even years.
Stay in the Pocket
Pocket squares are truly one of the best accessories you can wear, especially if you find one that can really draw the eye. It takes a little searching and more than a few attempts to find the right combination of pocket square and tie but once you do, you’ll likely be complimented left and right for it.
Like a good painting or photograph, the aesthetic idea behind a pocket square is to cause peoples’ eye from your face, to your tie, to the pocket square and back. Often called the Rule of Thirds or the Rule of Threes, your mind is naturally drawn to asymmetry which most often happens with odd numbers. If you have a beard remember to groom your beard properly so that people will notice your pocket square and not just an unruly beard. It all works together.
With that in mind, you want a pocket square that attracts the eye and doesn’t blend into your suit jacket nor do you want it to fade into your tie. A good pocket square should stand alone while also combining well with your suit and tie. This makes good pocket squares a little harder to find and also makes them a little more expensive.
Since the most common pocket squares are made of silk or linen, they can be a little hard on the wallet— or, at least, harder than handkerchiefs. That’s one of the biggest reasons to carry both a pocket square and a handkerchief. The average pocket square costs around $20 which can buy you a pack of six handkerchiefs.
As with everything that relates to style, personal preference will dictate most of your choices concerning pocket squares and handkerchiefs. What draws your eye may not draw the eyes of others but that’s how personal style and even personality works. Take essential oils as an example, not everyone will like the scent of one oil over another in fact the scent may slightly differ from person to person.
When you pick your pocket squares and handkerchiefs, you should like the way they look and feel. Even the decision to carry a handkerchief is entirely up to you. If you buy handkerchiefs but never use them, there’s not really any point to buying more; they just turn into a waste of money.
Likewise, if you don’t truly like the way a pocket square looks, you’re less likely to wear it and it’ll just sit in your drawer. So make sure you truly want to carry both and make sure you really enjoy the way they compliment your suits and ties.