Posted by James F. Brown on Feb 22, 2009 - 3:00:13 PM
Let’s be clear here: pocket squares are NOT handkerchiefs! Handkerchiefs are pieces of linen or cotton cloth used to blow noses. Pocket squares are usually silk, come in a variety of colors and patterns, and are placed in the chest pockets of coats and blazers.
Pocket squares have been out of style for the past few decades. Their most recent heyday was the ‘50s, but they faded from view in the ‘60s. Now they’re making a comeback. Because they’ve been out of style for so long, most men today no longer know the proper pocket square rules. In this column, we’ll get reacquainted with those rules.
First, keep in mind that understatement is the hallmark of professional attire. Nothing loud, over the top, or excessive. A pocket square tucked into a chest pocket should be a minor accent. There are three basic ways to do this.
The first is to grasp the center of the square with thumb and forefinger, pull it up, then form an “O” with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand encircling the square. Slide the hand halfway down the square and close the “O.” Push the center down to form a puff, fold the bottom of the square up, and insert the square into the pocket with the puff showing.
Another method is to fold the square into a triangle, then fold each end point of the triangle upward next to the apex point. The result is a square with three points showing from the pocket.
The last method is to fold it into a small square and place it in the pocket with a straight edge peeking out evenly across the pocket. This is the most conservative and subtle technique, and shows the least amount of square.
A recent method is to accordion-fold a square and have it spread out, fan-shaped, from the pocket. I don’t recommend this. It shows far too much square and is gaudy.
The pocket square color can match either the shirt or a color contained in the tie. However, it’s not considered upscale to have a square that exactly matches the tie’s pattern (or color if the tie is a solid). Although ties are sometimes sold with an exactly matching square, they are never worn together by sophisticated, stylish men. Save that matching square to wear with another tie.
A solid white square is always appropriate and can be worn with any shirt and tie. Tuxedos, especially, benefit from a white square worn in the pocket.
Never wear a boutonnière (lapel flower) and a pocket square together. It’s garish overkill. One or the other but not both.
Avoid the pre-made “squares” stapled to a card that slips into the chest pocket. It’s the equivalent of a clip-on tie—lower-class and clueless. Real pocket squares worn correctly have a slight asymmetry and irregularity. The pre-made are too perfect, and can be spotted from across the room.
In the end, it’s your choice to wear a pocket square… or not. But if you do, these tips will ensure you’ll doing it right and look elegant.
James F. Brown is a business consultant and expert on professional attire.