It’s worth knowing the difference between a pocket square and a handkerchief. As similar as these two accessories are, they couldn’t be any more different.
But the real tricky part comes with learning when and how to use pocket squares.
There can be times when your already-dapper three-piece suit feels lacking. Does your tie match? Are the colors clashing? Do you need to cut down on the prints and patterns, or perhaps add a little more?
Any gentleman looking to elevate his suit game knows that a simple pocket square can take any charming look to the next level. So how exactly do you get started with men’s pocket squares?
What is A Pocket Square?
Simply put, a pocket square is a small piece of fabric — typically about 16 inches in size — tucked into the breast pocket of your suit jacket. Pocket squares add some visual interest to an already smart outfit. The sliver of cloth that peeks from under your breast pocket provides a striking accent of color or patterns that enhance your suit’s overall look.
In the same way that cufflinks add a simple but classy finishing touch, pocket squares are versatile accessories that can give your suit the statement piece it needs.
The Difference Between a Pocket Square and a Handkerchief
You might think that a pocket square is just a fancier handkerchief. In actuality, the two are significantly different. What’s so special about pocket squares when you’ve already got handkerchiefs?
Whereas a pocket square is more decorative in nature, a handkerchief provides more functionality. Handkerchiefs are often stored either in the pocket of your dress pants or the inside of your jacket pocket. They’re usually used for personal hygiene purposes, like wiping off the sweat from your face or blowing your nose should the need arise.
On the other hand, pocket squares are a part of your overall outfit. They’re much daintier than your typical handkerchief as they’re more for show than anything else.
Silk and linen remain to be popular choices for pocket squares. As these materials are more lightweight, they won’t weigh down your breast pocket nor add any unnecessary bulk. There’s also the option to go for thicker fabrics, such as wool and lightweight cotton, though you might have to compensate for their thickness by opting for a smaller size.
Lauded for its absorbency and durability whilst still maintaining softness, cotton is the fabric of choice for handkerchiefs. Though they can be made from linen and silk, handkerchiefs call for a material that can withstand several washes, what with their general state of being dirty at the end of the day. Cotton is also a considerably thicker fabric. While this makes them more durable, they can be too blocky to emulate the sleekness of pocket squares.
In general, pocket squares are much more convenient to fold if they’re smaller in size. However, for silk pocket squares, in particular, going any smaller than 16 inches could result in the fabric slipping down inside your breast pocket due to the delicate nature of the material. For cloths on the heavier side, such as the aforementioned wool and lightweight cotton, sticking to fabrics that are around 12 inches will suffice.
Size shouldn’t be much of an issue for handkerchiefs, especially if they’re being kept in the pocket of your trousers. Go for whatever size is comfortable for you. More importantly, choose a handkerchief size that suits your needs and preferences.
How to Wear a Pocket Square
While you might think matching the color of your pocket square to that of your necktie will make your outfit more cohesive, in actuality, a more harmonious outfit is one that features different pieces that complement each other. When it comes to pocket squares, mixing colors is better than matching them.
For a classic option, choosing a white pocket square can be your safest bet. It’s a no-fail choice that goes with any jacket and tie combo of any color or print. Neutral colors, like grays and browns, are also a popular choice when you want to be a little more understated with your pocket squares.
If you’re looking to dive into the more colorful side of pocket squares, it’s important to pick a color that complements your suit and tie of choice rather than simply matching it. Choose a secondary color from your shirt or tie and go for a square that incorporates that color.
Meanwhile, a pocket square in the complementary color of your suit or tie adds some great contrast without being too overwhelming. It might be considered a little bold for some, but if you’re on the more daring side, then complementary color schemes are going to be your cup of tea.
Prints and Patterns
Pocket squares come in a variety of prints and patterns. It can be exciting to choose from such a vast collection but incorporating pocket squares that feature bold prints and loud patterns calls for a little more constraint. Be sure not to overdo it; avoid mixing loud patterns between your suit and your square. If your shirt sports a bold print, then balance it out with a more subtle square.
Once you’ve settled on a pocket square with a pattern or print of your choice, you can then build the rest of your outfit around it. A monochrome suit can be a handsome choice to make your pocket square the focal point of your look. Alternatively, pocket squares in flamboyant prints can still bring harmony to a look so long as they’re in a color that complements your suit.
5 Unspoken Pocket Square Rules
While pocket squares are highly versatile accessories, there are actually wrong ways to wear them. In order to bring out the best of your outfit, make sure to keep these five tidbits of information in mind.
1. The color of your pocket square should match the secondary color of your shirt or tie.
At the end of the day, pocket squares are accessories. This means they follow the same rules most accessories do. In this case, this means that their primary color must match the secondary color of your shirt or your tie. This is done in order to provide an aesthetically pleasing contrast that brings out the best of your outfit.
2. If you’re wearing a pocket square with a tie, then make sure only one is patterned.
As fun as it is wearing pocket squares and ties with fancy, vibrant patterns, it’s possible to go overboard. If both your tie and your pocket square have patterns — even if they don’t necessarily match — it’ll give people a hard time looking at you since they won’t know what to focus on. The result is an over-the-top tacky aesthetic.
3. Wear simple folds for formal occasions and save snazzier folds for casual ones.
At the office and at formal engagements, you’re better off wearing simple pocket square folds such as the presidential fold, or one or two-point folds. Casual occasions, on the other hand, allow you to be a little bolder with the folds you choose. Some of the louder and more extravagant folds like the puff, the scallop, and the Dunaway folds might draw too much attention to informal settings, but they wouldn’t be out of place at parties and other social engagements.
4. Make sure your pocket square doesn’t have the same color as your tie.
One of the biggest fashion pitfalls people make the mistake of stumbling into is matching the colors of their pocket squares with their ties. It’s completely understandable — they’re both accessories and they’re both used to add some flair to your outfits. Still, it’s important to consider that your pocket square must be of a different shade than the rest of your clothing.
5. When in doubt, use a white pocket square.
White pocket squares are what’s known as a safe bet. They’re simple, they’re reliable, and they wouldn’t be out of place regardless of the occasion. Whether it be formal, casual, or something in-between, a white pocket square can be worn with any outfit with any combination of colors without raising any brows.
When to Wear a Pocket Square
Formal engagements can be the best opportunity to show off your pocket square. After all, pocket squares are an effortless way to dress up your suit. They’re also great for when you want to add a bit of pizzazz to your look through a splash of color, texture, or print.
Want to lose the tie? A pocket square can make for a refined alternative to a necktie. Whether you’re donning chinos or even jeans, so long as you’ve got a blazer on you, adding a pocket square can instantly add some formal elegance to an otherwise casual outfit.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you use a pocket square as a handkerchief?
As strange as this question is, it’s one that’s totally justified. Despite their incredible similarities, pocket squares are accessories and nothing more. The fabric used to create them wasn’t designed with absorption in mind, meaning they would make for poor handkerchiefs.
While it is possible to use a pocket square as a handkerchief (let’s be real, anything can be a handkerchief if you’re bold enough), it’s strongly advised to keep your pocket squares strictly decorative.
2. How do you get rid of stains on your pocket square?
Stains on white pocket squares made of cotton can be removed with bleaching, though this isn’t recommended for more sensitive materials. Pocket squares made of silk, polyester, wool, and linen should never be bleached. These materials will dissolve, melt, or be otherwise damaged.
With the sole exception of silk, these materials should instead be washed — whether it be by machine or by hand. This gets the stains out of your pocket squares without dealing significant damage to them.
Silk pocket squares are a little too sensitive to be left in the washing machine. As such, it’s better to wash these by hand and subsequently dry them to make the most out of them. Ideally, these should be washed in cold or lukewarm water with minimal soap.
3. Can you use a handkerchief as a pocket square?
Regardless of how charming the patterns of a handkerchief can be, they ought to be kept out of sight, preferably in your pocket. This is because, unlike pocket squares, handkerchiefs aren’t accessories. Instead, they’re to be used to blow your nose or wipe away sweat.
People will also quickly notice, as different materials are used to create pocket squares and handkerchiefs. The two, though similar, are not interchangeable. As a result, it’s ill-advised to decorate the jacket of your suit with an everyday item used to clean yourself.
4. Should you iron a pocket square?
Proper care and maintenance are absolutely essential if you want to make the most out of your pocket squares. With that said, ironing them is one way to get rid of wrinkles, though the methods by which they should be ironed vary depending on the material.
For instance, silk pocket squares can be ironed at low heat though precautions must be taken. To keep the silk undamaged, it’s best to cover it with another fabric before ironing it so it doesn’t make direct contact with the iron.
On the other hand, polyester pocket squares are significantly more durable. These don’t usually need to be ironed given their make. But in the event that they do require ironing, it’s best to use warm iron as polyester has the tendency to melt at extremely high temperatures.
Finally, linen pocket squares and cotton pocket squares crinkle and crease quite often. As a result, these two materials will require frequent ironing to maintain that neat look. They can both be ironed at high temperatures.
5. Can pocket squares be worn at funerals, and if so, how?
While it is possible to wear pocket squares to funerals, it’s important to remember that these events are solemn and serious. It would be in extremely poor taste to wear something flashy and attention-grabbing.
A vibrant pocket square with wild patterns would be extremely out of place — more so if the pocket square is folded in informally, such as a Scallop fold or a Puff.
If ever you wish to wear a pocket square to a funeral, keep it simple: use a plain and simple monochrome pocket square with a nice straight edge.
6. Can I use a white handkerchief as a pocket square?
As mentioned before, the two are similar but they are not interchangeable. Because of this, it is not recommended to use a white handkerchief as a pocket square. The difference is quite noticeable.
Similarly, a white pocket square cannot be used as a handkerchief for similar reasons. Their make will also make them incredibly poor handkerchiefs. It’s best to use both handkerchiefs and pocket squares for their intended purposes and nothing more.
Pocket Squares: A Dapper Essential
As you continue to experiment with patterns and colors and even folds, pocket squares will eventually become a fundamental piece of your wardrobe. So it’s important to find the best pocket square that matches your suit. More than just a mere slip of silk or linen, pocket squares are a staple accessory for every gentleman. Who knew such opulence and sophistication could come from a square piece of fabric?