As is often the case with fashion trends older than Kanye and Nick Wooster, the pocket square was heavily influenced by the stylings of royalty in Europe. King Richard II was described by courtiers as carrying a piece of fabric with him at all times. The reasons behind it are twofold (and perhaps contradictory): one suggests he was a sickly man and needed to constantly wipe his nose while the other proposes he and other nobles would hold fabric over their faces when walking amongst the poor unwashed masses in order to protect themselves from the odor. (This is so elitist that I hope the first reason is the real one!)
It wasn’t uncommon for men to carry pieces of fabric by the 19th century, with detailing and fine materials signifying a person of means. In another possibly legendary tale of royalty it is said that Marie Antoinette told her husband King Louis XVI that squares were the most aesthetically pleasing form for the fabric to take. Louis agreed and issued an edict that all handkerchiefs from France would have a length equal to their width. Thus the fabric kept in one’s pocket for wiping the hands or nose needed to be square.
RISE AND DECLINE
Thanks for helping bring back the square. This is the TV fold.
At the beginning of the 20th century as men’s three piece suits rose to prominence, guys began to realize that it wasn’t ideal to have your nice clean pocket square floating around with your dirty change, keys, or whatever else might be in your trousers. The pocket square would be prominently displayed in the breast pocket until used and then transferred to a pants pocket.
In the 1930’s Kleenex found that because germs are a real thing, it isn’t ideal to keep a snot rag hanging around where you have to touch it all the time. They introduced their disposable handkerchiefs with the slogan “Don’t carry a cold in your pocket!” and virtually overnight the formerly utilitarian pocket square became purely decorative. If the 20’s – 50’s were the golden age of the pocket square, the 60’s – 90’s were its exile. Folks wanted to break free, be nonconformist and modern, and this antiquated accessory seemed burdensome. The pocket square took a sartorial vacation but was recently revived by shows like Mad Men as well as the general rise in men’s fashion.
WEARING A POCKET SQUARE TODAY
Lots of rules have come and gone; for example, it was common in the 1940’s to match your pocket square to your tie exactly (same fabric, pattern, etc). However, that trend is out of vogue and is basically the only “rule” for squares that endures – it should complement but not MATCH your outfit.
There are a bevvy of folding styles but two classics will get the job done:
- The presidential fold is named for Harry Truman (also called the TV fold because the style was popular among newscasters during the 1950’s)
- The two point fold is what I consider to be the most classic; it’s visually appealing without being ostentatious
If you’re looking for a unique square to compliment your favorite suit, check out lagniappeco's amazing collection!