Buyer’s Guide to Pocket Squares
What is a pocket square, and what purpose does it serve?
A pocket square is a perfect and simple way to add some personality to your wardrobe, adding a welcome pop of colour and a little flair to your plain jackets.
Essentially, a pocket square is a square piece of silk, cotton or other fabric that fits neatly into the top pocket of your suit or sports jacket and is purely for decoration. Please don’t use it as you would a handkerchief – you’ll ruin a beautiful accessory.
Where did the pocket square originate?
The history pocket square is richer than many assume and is inextricably linked with the use of handkerchiefs.
Some believe you can trace them back to ancient Egypt, where small pieces of cloth were dyed red for decorative purposes, or even to ancient Greece, where men carried a piece of cloth scented with perfume. Others propose that pocket squares began with the ornamental fabric handkerchief that the Roman Emperor dropped to signal the start of the gladiatorial games. It was also common from the middle ages and for centuries after for wealthy men to use a silk handkerchief edged with lace and imbued with fragrance to protect their delicate sense of smell from urban miasma.
However, fashion historians often credit King Richard II for transforming loudly printed silk handkerchiefs into a fashion accessory in the 14th century. There is also evidence that pocket squares, or at least heavily decorated handkerchiefs, were worn in the court of French King Louis XVI whose wife Marie Antoinette (apparently) declared they should be a standard size of 40cm x 40cm.
When the two-piece suit was introduced, men transferred their handkerchiefs to their top breast pockets to prevent them from mixing with the dirty coins and such in their trouser pockets a. However, it wasn't until later in the 20thcentury when the fashion world made the distinction between handkerchiefs and pocket squares. Since then, men have kept a cloth in their pocket to handle sniffles (usually white with decorative edging), and have worn a silk pocket square with a rolled edge as a fashion statement in the top, outer breast pocket of their suit jacket.
How and where is a pocket square made?
At Alexandra Wood, our pocket squares are printed and sewn in the UK. After the pattern is printed and the fabric carefully cut, the edges are machine rolled for a perfect finish.
Edges can also be embroidered, hand-rolled, machine-stitched or have a z-shaped (zig zag) stitch.
What fabrics are pocket squares made of?
You'll find pocket squares in an array of fabrics, including silk, cotton, linen, polyester or blends of cotton and polyester.
In our view, silk is the only way to go. It looks beautiful, drapes well and adds a touch of luxury to your style. Silk allows you to form beautiful shapes with your pocket square with far more flexibility than with a stiffer fabric.
What size should a pocket square be?
It needs to be around 33cm x 33cm (although some tailors prefer 40cm x 40 cm) to be able to fit perfectly into all your pockets yet big enough to be play about with.
That said, you don't want a colossal pocket square over-flowing from your pocket like you’re ready to do a magic trick, and excess fabric will make your pocket bulge.
Is a pocket square still fashionable?
In a word, yes. And we believe this is because pocket squares are a classic accessory that subtly elevates an outfit, unlike a tie or cravat.
Like with most trends, pocket squares have gone in and out of fashion. They noticeably went out of favour in the 1960s but made a resurgence. As the preference for ties has waned, men have turned to pocket squares as a way to spruce up an outfit.
What should I wear a pocket square with?
If you're going to a smart-casual, business or formal occasion
, you can wear a pocket square.
If you are wearing a sports jacket, blazer or suit with a jetted breast pocket (the pocket is concealed but doesn't have a flap), you can wear a pocket square with it.
We love seeing them worn for weddings (with or without a tie), with a linen sports jacket for summer lunches, or with a sharp double-breasted business suit.
Just match the fold, colour and print with the occasion. In general, lighter colours and subtle patterns with looser folds are more casual, while darker colours and bolder patterns with intricate sharp are best for more formal events.
What pocket square should I choose?
When choosing a pocket square, in general, contrast is key (unless you are creating a tonal look). The idea is not to look too coordinated – you want it to look effortlessly stylish and complimentary.
If you’re wearing a tie, it doesn't need to match but choose a common colour to bring them together. However, be wary of wearing too many patterns – you'll end up looking like a fashion show reject.
- Classic: For a look that will never date, a plain white linen pocket square with a black jacket or navy sports jacket is an easy choice. While it won’t add a great deal of flair, it is enough to elevate your outfit a few levels.
- Subtle: If you’re purchasing your first pocket square, or going to a smart-casual event outdoors, try a pocket square in a plain colour that is in the same colour palette as your jacket. For a more subtle look, try a pocket square in a tonal colour, e.g. pale blue with a navy sports jacket.
- Patterned: Patterns are the perfect way to have fun with your outfit. Start with a classic paisley or tile print with a solid tonal border, e.g. navy, ivory and indigo, before you graduate to something more daring with brighter complementary colours, e.g. navy and orange.
- Art or prints: Wearing a pocket square featuring your favourite artwork, or an illustration that pays homage to your favourite sport or music is a great way to tell your own story through fashion. Take inspiration from our sports range: Speed Demon, Game Set Match, Merveilleux Cycliste, Yachters Paradise, Scrumaliscous. The hint of an image is a great conversation starter.
If you’re unsure, the Alexandra Wood staff are more than happy to offer their guidance when choosing pocket squares and other accessories.
Should I wear a pocket square without a tie?
Absolutely. You don't have to wear them with a tie – simply pop in a sports jacket for a smart-casual look.
How should I fold a pocket square?
Pocket squares are placed carefully into a man’s pocket and not simply ‘shoved’.
Some men take a long time to perfect the art of folding a pocket square – and it’s not surprising, there are literally dozens of folds. We encourage you to do your research and find one that suits you and the occasion – some folds fit formal events more than others.
To get started, we recommend these classic pocket square folds:
- The Square (or Presidential): Folded the pocket square half and then vertically again before being doubled over and a slight 'hem' tucked under.
- The 1 Peak/Point: Fold the pocket square in half diagonally and place it down with the longest side facing you. Then fold the two outside corners in to make a house shape. Place in your pocket with the ‘peak’ rising above your pocket.
- The Twisted Rose: A very ‘dandy’ look, pinch the pocket square in the middle and twist until you have a rose shape, fluff it up a little, then place delicately into your pocket, so the twist (the middle of the ‘rose) sits just above the opening of the pocket.
Regardless of the fold, always hide any labels or insignia from view.
How should I care for my pocket squares?
Keep them folded flat, preferably in their own drawer or in a wooden box.
If you wear one regularly with a specific jacket, you may wish to keep it folded as you wear it in the jacket pocket.
Alexandra Wood’s Pocket Squares
Our pocket squares are made in Britain using 18mm pure twill silk in exclusive designs.
Each season we release a collection of limited editing patterns and prints. We never repeat designs, so that our customers can be sure their look is unique.