Saturday, 26 January 2013

A brief history of the pocket square

In which G.M. Norton explores the history of the humble handkerchief.

Contrary to popular opinion, Mad Men’s Roger Sterling did not invent the pocket square. Although it is only fair to credit the inebriated advertising executive for helping men to rediscover the lost art of sporting an elegantly folded handkerchief.
Roger rocking the three point fold

According to legend, the honour of being the inventor of handkerchiefs falls to King Richard II, who ruled England from 1377 to 1399. Parchment from his courtiers reported that he had “a little piece of cloth for the lord king to wide and clean his nose”.

Until Louis XVI’s reign as King of France and Navarre in the late 1700s, handkerchiefs came in every shape and size. As the old saying goes, behind every great King is a great Queen and it is certainly true in this case. Perturbed by the preposterous proportions of handkerchiefs, Louis XVI’s wife, Marie Antoinette convinced him to decree that they must all be square, measuring 16” by 16”. Hence, this is how ‘square’ met ‘pocket’. 
Marie Antoinette demanded 16 inches
By the 1920s, pocket squares were especially popular, worn by style-conscious gentlemen in combination with a sharp suit and the era-defining fedora.
Yet by the latter half of the 20th century, the pocket square met the same sad fate as the hat and its popularity dwindled. Thankfully, with television shows such as Mad Men, pocket squares are now adorning the breast pockets of more men which can only be a good thing.

A pocket square is the least expensive way a man can elevate up into the echelons of the smart and stylish so support the Year of the Gentleman and wear yours with pride. While it is often said that the pocket square should complement the tie, it should never directly match it in pattern or colour so please resist the urge to buy a matching tie and handkerchief set. It simply isn’t done, old bean.

There are many ways to fold your handkerchief, as demonstrated by these rather dapper gentlemen.
So there you have it. More gentlemanly antics will follow next Saturday at four o'clock.

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of 'Norton of Morton'
 

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