Style Basics

Why are pocket squares used only for decoration?

By on January 20th, 2018

Although wearing a handkerchief (i.e. pocket square) isn’t as common today as it once was, it remains a very simple way for us guys to express ourselves and show a little style. But why are pocket squares even a thing? Why do we wear them in the first place? Like so many things in menswear, there’s some fun history behind the handkerchief.

The pocket square can actually trace its origins back to ancient Egypt, where a piece of linen cloth was dyed red for decorative purposes. And the ancient Greeks were also said to have used a version of today’s pocket square where the cloth was scented with perfume to mask common everyday odors.

But it wasn’t until the 15th century that pocket squares started to become popular throughout Europe. Silk came onto the scene about that time and the resulting pocket squares were often embroidered to convey wealth and status. Some Italian pocket squares were ostensibly so beautiful that they were considered family heirlooms!

Fast forward a few centuries to the 1900’s and the modern 2-piece suit was becoming popular. As far as I know, the pocket square moved from the side pockets, where there were other times stored (e.g. coins), to the chest pocket. The mid-century called for crisply pressed white pocket squares, but the 70’s and 80’s were defined by more extravagant varieties.

Today, the handkerchief/pocket square is used purely for decoration and style. While not all men choose to wear one with their suits, it’s certainly an opportunity for you to show a little creativity in your style and stand apart.

Looking for even more detail, here’s a great write up on the history of the pocket square by Rampley & Co.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about when to wear one, here’s an article I wrote on how to wear a handkerchief in the office.