Hanky and your image

The popularity of the handkerchief is attributed to its use in expressing an individual’s identity.
The design should be in keeping with the client’s image, says Pheroz Khareghat

TO most of us—the aaam admi—the handkerchief/ rumal is something to crumble up and keep in our pant pockets, for use when wiping sweat from our brows or when blowing/clearing our noses. But for the fashionable elite, the handkerchief has its own connotations.

A well-dressed man should always have a pocket square, generally complimenting the colours of his outfit
A well-dressed man should always have a pocket square, generally complimenting the colours of his outfit

Hankie and pocket square kerchief— the word comes from old French ceuverchef, meaning a ‘covering for the head’—or a rumal, is derived from Persian ru-mal, meaning the same—something with which to wipe the face. The pocket handkerchief is in fact only 400 years old. It was the idea of a Venetian lady to cut a square out of pure flax and then decorate it with lace. The handkerchief of this period was made with the most expensive fabrics, adorned with embroidery, and were objects of great luxury. In 1850, Germany adopted the handkerchief, but it was only used by the royalty and aristocrats.

Until 18th century, the handkerchief came in many forms. One day at Versailles, the famous French queen Marie-Antoinette made the observation that the square form would be more convenient and pleasing. Immediately, her husband King Louis XVI published a decree ordering that the length of handkerchiefs produced in the kingdom would be equal to their width.

The continuing popularity of the handkerchief is also attributed to its use in expressing an individual’s identity. As fashion designer Narotam Murari says: "Handkerchief design must be in keeping with a client’s image—from funky designs for bikers to lacy trims for ladies."`A0 Handkerchiefs have also inspired dress design "in sleeves, hems and prints." There are designer handkerchiefs created by Nina Ricci and other fashion maestros for ladies with prices starting from Rs 1,000.

The handkerchief in its different forms comes as the regular one—the pocket square and the bandanna. The material of a handkerchief can be symbolic of the social-economic class of the user, not only because some materials are more expensive, but because some materials are more absorbent and practical for those who use a handkerchief for more than style. They can be made of cotton, cotton-synthetic blend, synthetic fabric, silk, or linen. When used as an accessory to a suit, a handkerchief is known as a pocket square.

A bandanna is a larger type of handkerchief which is often printed in a vibrant colour and with a paisley pattern. Bandanas are also traditionally used as handkerchiefs by manual labourers and outdoorsmen, since they more practically hide stains than a white handkerchief. Thus they come to symbolise social strata.

Again, there is a difference between a pocket square and a pocket handkerchief, although the terms are often used interchangeably. A true pocket square is only about half a big as a standard cotton handkerchief. This is so to ensure that it doesn’t push out the breast pocket as originally worn.

A well-dressed man should always have a pocket square, generally complimenting the colours of his outfit, but never repeating a pattern. A white linen or silk square (depending on the texture of the rest of our outfit) almost always looks stylish, and a good quality pocket square helps the wearer achieve that elegant look between flamboyant and plain.

There are quite a few ways for stylish men to fold their pocket squares when used to accessorise a suit. The methods range from simple to complex, but men who are interested in presenting a fashionable image are willing to experiment and wear fold designs that they like. One of the most common fold designs you will find for men’s pocket square are simply the square-shaped TV fold, which offers a hint of the edges and design.

Similar to this is the triangle shape where the pocket square is folded into an angle which is protruding out of the breast pocket. Another method is the pointed method, where the pocket square is folded into quarters and the corners are fanned out. The most flamboyant method, though, is the puff fold, which looks perhaps flower-like.

The addition of a pocket square adds some finishing panache to a good suit. So, the first guideline of pocket square usage is to always wear one when you wear a suit or sport a coat. It just looks better.

A pocket square can be patterned or solid. The general guideline is that your pocket square colour should compliment the colour on your tie. So, if your tie has a bit of red, rock a solid red pocket square or a patterned pocket square with some red in it. However, avoid matching the colours exactly. It looks like you are trying too hard (so never ever buy a tie/pocket square set at your local department store). A white pocket square can be worn with any colour tie, making this colour handkerchief an essential part of every man’s collection. — MF