The History of the Pocket Square

 believe all men and women who own a suit or smart blazer jacket should also own a silk pocket square. This sartorial accessory is steeped in history but where did it come from? 

The pocket squares less luxury beginning

The origin of the pocket square is a little hazy, some say it dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, others say it was Ancient Greeks. One thing we do know for sure, it’s an evolution of the good old handkerchief. In some form the handkerchief has almost always existed and is still widely used today. Ancient Egyptians are known to have kept small linen cloths that were either white or died with red powder. Ancient Greeks dipped white linen cloths into perfume and used them to keep the miasma of city sewage away from their nostrils. Europeans during the middle ages copied the Ancient Greek technique, however linen was swapped out for a Silk Handkerchief amongst the wealthy.


Renaissance for the handkerchief

In 1377 King Richard II (most definitely a dandy) ascended to the throne and with him he is credited to have brought a new style of handkerchief made from silk and adorned with loud patterns. Surviving documents from his courtiers state that he used an elaborately decorated cloth to wipe his nose. Whether this is urban legend or truth is not entirely known but I rather like the idea and it does lead fittingly on to the handkerchiefs renaissance and rebirth in the form of a Pocket Square.

In the 1400s throughout Europe more elaborate handkerchiefs became popular amongst the wealthy and elite. Expanding trade routes between European and eastern countries brought exotic materials like silk along with embroidered and woven patterns for those who could afford. Italy became one of the most important trading countries for these exotic materials and quickly developed a strong textile industry.

The 16th century saw Italy’s luxury textiles become the most sought after in the western world. Catherine de Medici, once queen of France, imported large quantities of Italian handkerchiefs from Florence. These extremely valuable accessories were distributed amongst friends, family and French nobility, each handkerchief was passed down from generation to generation. This exclusive trend continued and found its way to the UK with both Queen Mary and Elizabeth receiving handkerchiefs as presents. I rather like this concept of holding onto a textile accessory and passing it down, its both very sustainable and creates an heirloom with lots of history and a story.

Pocket Square Party Fact

First fact:

Until the 18th century handkerchiefs came in all different shapes and sizes. Strangely, Marie Antoinette had a 'funny five' and decided that she did not want handkerchiefs of all different sizes and she preceded to have her husband King Louis XVI decree that all handkerchiefs should measure 16 by 16 inches (42x42cm). This is why even today most handkerchiefs and pocket squares are all 16 by 16 but not ours with are just a tad over 17x17 inches (45x45cm).

Second Fact:

Traditionally a pocket square has to have a hand rolled edge, any other hem finish places it in the handkerchief category.

Suits you sir

The 19th century rolls in and with it comes a fashion icon, the suit, more specifically the 2-piece jacket and trouser suit which came with a breast pocket. Men decided that mixing their expensive elaborately decorated Handkerchiefs with other dirty objects in their trouser pockets was a fashion faux pas, so naturally they elevated the handkerchief up to the breast pocket allowing some of the design to be on show…. Voilà the pocket square is born.  I like to believe that the breast pocket was invented solely for wonderful pocket square but potentially it was invented for shotgun shells.

The 20th century sees the pocket squares popularity grow, especially in America where men’s suit fashion reaches its peak with socialites, politicians, gangsters and film stars like James Cagney and Fred Astaire sporting the pocket square, elevating its status.

Personally, I must admit that my favourite historical era for men’s fashion is the 20th century, especially 1920’s and 30’s America when the suit and smart hat was king of men’s fashion.

With popularity comes saturation and as the 20th century drew to a close people had well and truly become bored of the suit and of smart wear in general, sadly rendering the pocket square exclusively to the dapper and dandy men and women. It truly saddens me that menswear became so casual and unimpressive during the start of the 21st century. It took 15 years before we saw the suit and smart tailoring reappear and I am happy to say that in 2019 the current combination of tailoring and comfort is allowing the pocket square to have  a second renaissance. Celebrities, fashionistas, dandies and dapper ladies and gentlemen are once again wearing the pocket square and wearing it well, both in their pockets and around their necks as a neckerchief.

Why we should all own a pocket square

The purpose of the pocket square is simple, it allows you to express your personality by turning the most conservative jacket and trouser outfit into an elaborate, eye catching look. There are also many different folds you can experiment with allowing you to show more or less depending on the occasion or how daring you want to be.

At Dalliance & Noble we have made them slightly larger at 45x45cm allowing you to show more off in your pocket or wear them around your neck as a neckerchief with more casual outfits.

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