Make Room for the Biggest Comeback — the Handkerchief

Should the Handkerchief Make a Comeback?

Let’s cut straight to the chase here. The answer to the question from the title is a wholehearted yes. And, if you’re wondering why, let us be the ones to open your eyes to the benefits of an elegant handkerchief.

Just imagine the following scene — you’re taking a stroll with your lady friend (yes, that’s the term we’re going with), and she’s in so much distress (not due to anything you’ve done, of course) that she tears up and needs a tissue. 

Now, if this were happening in the 20th century, you’d procure a crisp, neatly folded handkerchief, and she’d gratefully accept it to dry her tears. However, in the 21st century, you can probably offer a simple, drab paper tissue (if anything at all). Not very gentlemanly, is it?

Not that long ago, handkerchiefs were a staple accessory for any man of class. They were practical, and they were an excellent addition to the already sharp look of a two- or three-piece suit. 

Today, they’ve sadly fallen out of fashion. Now we have paper tissues we use if we have a runny nose, a dirty phone screen, or require a paper towel.

With paper options being readily (and cheaply) available, most people wonder why they should carry a handkerchief when we can just use other, disposable things instead. Well, having a crisp, clean handkerchief is not only more elegant but also courteous. However, there are other benefits to it.

But first, why did the handkerchief fall out of favor in the first place?

A Walk Down Memory Lane

It’s somewhat unclear when the handkerchief as we know it today became an everyday item. Some say that it was in ancient Egypt where people used red cloth to display their wealth and status. Others claim it was in ancient Rome where the Emperor dropped his handkerchief to signal the start of a fight between his Gladiators.

We know for sure that a handkerchief became a fashion accessory sometime in the 1400s. The European aristocracy used it back then both for practical reasons and to complete their fashionable looks.

Back then, only the high class used handkerchiefs as accessories. They’d coordinate them with their elaborate looks. As a bonus, they always had a clean hanky handy. The working class didn’t really get into the trend until owning elegant two-piece suits became more widespread.

In the 19th century, every gentleman had a handkerchief ready, and he carried it in his breast pocket. But then the expansion of the cellulose industry happened, and tissue paper became widespread. That’s when the handkerchief not only fell out of style but also somewhat fell into oblivion.

Handkerchiefs Were Always in Style in Japan

Of course, just because the majority of the world turned their backs on the exquisite accessory that is a cloth hanky, that doesn’t mean everyone did. For example, Japan never let go of this custom, and many Japanese men, women, and children still carry a cloth hanky with them.

Ah, Japan and the handkerchief — a fashionable love story! They have a special relationship that goes back decades.

The Japanese people have an amazing way of adopting foreign customs and adapting them to fit their own styles and traditions. That’s what happened with the handkerchief.

Nowadays, in the West, you’re more likely to see a fancy pocket square that’s nothing more than a simple decoration for special occasions than people actually using a handkerchief in everyday life. But that’s not the case with Japan.

Japanese people adopted it and never let go. Today, you can see pretty much anyone with one. Even children usually have cloth hankies handy.

Why Having a Handkerchief Is a Good Idea

Some say that carrying a handkerchief is a lost art. That’s probably because seeing one makes us reminiscent of the old times (sometimes even the times we never lived in).

There are more benefits to carrying a hanky than the chivalrous, romantic angle we already covered. 

Handkerchiefs are far superior to tissues. Firstly, they look nicer. Secondly, they are reusable and ultimately better for the environment.

But, of course, there’s more to it than that. Imagine rushing to a job interview and getting there all winded and sweaty. Instead of making your interviewer face your shiny forehead, you’d much rather wipe the sweat off, right?

So you take out a plastic packet of tissue paper and do just that. But what happens? Because it’s so thin and fragile, the tissue breaks off, and you’re left with a piece of paper stuck to your forehead. The horror! 

That would never happen with a handkerchief. Not to mention, whipping out a cloth hanky looks more sophisticated and classy.

When you need to wipe your hands after washing them or wipe your mouth after eating, but there are no paper towels nearby, having a hanky comes in handy. The same goes for those who wear glasses. They’ll think a handkerchief is a godsend!

Some people think that handkerchiefs are unhygienic because you have to keep them on you after blowing your nose. But here’s the thing — handkerchiefs are much like underwear in this regard. You’re supposed to take a new, clean one every day.

Pocket Squares — Rules and Etiquette

Of course, using a handkerchief as a fashion statement or a subtle accessory is the most popular use of a hanky in the West. 

When Is the Pocket Square Appropriate?

No matter the occasion, adding a pocket square is never a bad idea. There really is no inappropriate time to add some flair to your suit.

Even if your look is smart or casual with a blazer, a pocket square will fit in nicely.

Final Tips on the Size, Shape, and Color

However, just because you can add a pocket square to your outfit, it doesn’t mean you can add any pocket square. There are general rules and pocket square etiquette to abide by.

  • Formal, black tie looks require white pocket squares.
  • Conservative looks require a square just a few shades lighter than the jacket.
  • A good rule of thumb is to get a square that’s no smaller than 16 inches, especially if it’s a silk one. Otherwise, it might slip into your pocket.
  • Small pockets, though, require smaller squares (otherwise, they’ll look cramped).
  • If the occasion isn’t too formal, you can use the square as a pop of color (you can match it with a colorful tie or get a neutral tie and let the square shine on its own).