Pocket squares are an accessory that can go terribly wrong. We have all been to that cocktail party where there is that one dude sporting a pink paisley explosion of fabric popping out of his blazer. He thinks he’s festive but it’s a flop. And shame on the salesperson who said it would add the perfect amount of pizzazz. Then we have seen the guys with the pre-folded square that looks awkwardly flat and, well, pre-made. And who can forget Jimmy Kimmel’s iPhone pocket square? It’s so bad it's good.
How did we end up with a square of fabric in our breast pocket anyways? English and French royals were cuckoo over handkerchiefs. They were given as gifts to Queen Elizabeth I and later, Marie Antoinette dictated the size of a pocket square (16” x 16”). Back then, they were made from luxurious materials and fine lace and used to show off wealth. They could also be scented to keep the odors of the era at bay. When the two-piece suit came into fashion in the 19th century, the handkerchief moved from the trouser pocket (where it would often get soiled from change) and into the breast pocket for all to see. Today it is a staple in the menswear world and used simply for added style points, so please don’t use it to blow your nose at a dinner party.
To avoid all the perplexities of the pocket square we reached out to John Ballay, CEO & Founder of Knot Standard, to help us understand when to wear one and what styles work for each occasion.
If a man can only have one color and style of pocket square what should it be?
"75% of all pocket square usage is solved with a white pocket square. If you only own one, buy a cotton pocket square so that it will match the texture of your shirt since most men wear cotton shirts. Think of an open collar with a blazer and a white cotton pocket square, that is classic and goes a long way for versatility."
But what if my pocket square is too big to be a perfect square?
"The fold is directly correlated by the size of the pocket and the size of the pocket square. We love to show guys how to fold it during appointments as it takes away the dramatic nature of it. If your pocket square is too big simply fold part of it back to fit. We promise nobody is going to be judging you for that."
What about the guy who wants to try something different?
"Outside of that 75%, I would caution on trying to be too creative. If you try to match a pocket square with a tie it can be a little too quirky or coordinated. Consider a pattern like polka dots, or try a different texture like silk or even linen. Avoid orange, red, and bright blue because it is less of a classic look. Just don’t overthink it. The typical color palate for a blazer is blue and grey so a pocket square of white or eggshell will be the perfect compliment to that color palate."
Tell us more about fabric types.
Linen: a bit more casual
Silk: more formal
Cotton: will service everything in between.
What are your thoughts about all of those different ways to fold a pocket square?
"Use the 80/20 rule. You will get the most utility out of one color pocket square and one or two types of folds. Magazines will send guys down a rabbit hole of colors and shapes and really, a clean square fold of a white pocket square is really easy and takes very little effort. Years ago our creative director was discussing ‘the pouf’ and how much time we can actually spend on making it perfect when you really don’t need to overthink it."
Speaking of ‘The Pouf’, what are other folds guys can try?
"The pouf: Great with open collar and with blazers. It gives a nice casual look. It’s great for rehearsal dinners and dinners out. Silk and linen squares work best for this.
Two-point: If you want to venture out from ‘the square’, try the ‘two-point’. It works well for symmetry and good for when you are in a wedding party.
Three/Four point: We don’t really recommend this style unless you are going for the pleated pants, double-breasted blazer, vintage style look."