What do the following have in common?
- David Beckham
- Persian nobility
- Ronald Reagan
- French aristocrats
- King Richard II
- James Bond
- Justin Timberlake
- Sean Combs
- Robert Downey Junior
They all leveraged the stylish power of a handkerchief or pocket square.
In today's article I'm going to explain to you the major differences between a handkerchief and a pocket square.
A lot of the confusion surrounding the pocket square vs. handkerchief debate is actually the fault of style experts. We tend to use the terms interchangeably, but there is most definitely a difference.
The rule of thumb is:
One's for show and one's to blow.
Anyone want to guess?
If you're struggling, don't despair:
The pocket square is for show and belongs in your jacket breast pocket.
The handkerchief is for blow and goes in your back or front pants pocket or inside your jacket lower pockets/inside pockets.
So let's get into this!
Why should you care?
What's the difference between a pocket square and handkerchief?
Some of you may be thinking:
“Why would you be carrying a handkerchief, Antonio?”
I could just carry tissues and throw them away, instead of literally carrying around something with snot in it. Truthfully this is what I did for a long time, so I understand that point of view and I want to share with you a personal story to explain my preference:
In 2004 I was living in Ukraine. I had just gone over there and was spending some time with my new wife and we were living with her family. I notice her father was a huge handkerchief fan: he had a sizable personal collection of them. One day I needed some tissues and I couldn't find any of those small carry-along packets, so I started using the handkerchiefs.
Lo and behold – they were a lot better than tissues. I didn't feel like I was always having to throw things away and I had just the one item in my pocket. It didn't actually fill up with snot throughout the day like I thought it would, even when I was using it because of my allergies. I found I actually liked having it handy. It was always in my pocket and at the end of the day I just threw it into the laundry and got a new one.
Unfortunately on my return to the States I forgot about it. It was ten years later when TSHU reached out to me that my interest (and use) was revived.
They sent me these really superb samples that I was happy to use both then and now.
Use the code RMRS20 for an additional $20 discount!
These handkerchiefs are made specifically for men like you and I know you're going to like what you see.
So getting back to our topic, the big three differences are the following:
1. Handkerchief and Pocket Square Fabric Materials
The best handkerchiefs are made from 100% cotton and that's what you should be looking for in a handkerchief no matter where you get it from.
The amazing thing about cotton that I noticed about my father-in-law's handkerchiefs was that they got softer over time.
My wife confirmed this and told me her father always preferred handkerchiefs that were 20 to 25 years old – they became softer with time and since they were cotton they had an excellent lifespan.
So not only could your handkerchiefs outlast you, they might become something to pass onto your children when you're gone. There are few items in your wardrobe that will last that long and not only do they last long, they get better with time and remain stylish even though you use them.
Some cheaper fabric alternatives are out there and they will almost always be a polyester blend. This means they have an amount of polyester mixed in with the cotton.
I'd avoid them because I find they do not have the same style factor and simply don't absorb as well as pure cotton handkerchiefs.
Another big plus point for cotton is that it's made to be washed thousands and thousands of times and can stand up to a lot of wear and tear.
If you find something made of silk it's almost certainly a pocket square. Be very careful here because silk will never make a good handkerchief. You won't be able to blow on it because it's not absorbent and you can't wash it over and over. If you do this it will fall apart, because silk was not made to be washed frequently.
2. Handkerchief and Pocket Square Size
So why is handkerchief and pocket square size important?
Pocket squares are better if they're smaller, because you need to fit them into your breast suit pocket without creating a huge bulge.
The actual bulk of lightweight-cotton square and silk pocket square are about the same, but your handkerchief can be larger because it goes into a larger pocket.
I have a pocket square I love, but I wish it were half the size. It's a beast to wear in any suit pocket and it takes a lot of time and effort to get it into my pocket without making a huge bulge.
It did come in handy once! My family and I were at an Eastern Orthodox church and there was a woman that had forgotten her head-covering. She was actually putting a piece of paper over her head to try and follow the custom of covering your head.
Being prepared, I was able to whip out my over-sized pocket square and save the day. But this really is an unlikely turn of events for most of us and so you should still go with a smaller pocket square.
3. Handkerchief and Pocket Square Thickness
The final point is handkerchief and pocket square thickness.
FYI, this is another reason I love Tshu's products: their handkerchiefs are double-ply, so you have a layer of cotton on each side of your handkerchief. This makes it very thick and strong.
One side has a very soft, napped weave where you can blow into without it going through and a more stylish patterned surface on the other side.
Your silk pocket-square is going to be paper-thin. This goes back to the need to get it into a smaller pocket without looking strange.
In Summary – The Difference Between A Pocket Square & Handkerchief
The pocket square is for show and belongs in your jacket breast pocket. It is normally made from silk, a light-weight cotton or linen, and should be small enough to fold without creating bulk.
The handkerchief is for blow and goes in your back or front pants pocket or inside your jacket lower pockets/inside pockets. It is normally made from cotton so it can be washed and used to absorb fluids and can be larger in diameter as bulk is less of a factor.
Ready to start using a handkerchief?
I had TSHU create two packages for the stylish man looking to purchase high quality, hand-made handkerchiefs that will last a lifetime.
Use the code RMRS20 for an additional $20 discount.
Both of these collections were curated by me, as I own all of them and now carry them regularly.