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The history of the pocket square

Versatile and incredibly rich in history, the timeless pocket square is one of the most popular suit accessories on the market.

Synonymous with the dapper gentleman, pocket squares are a staple in men’s formalwear. Worn solely for aesthetic purposes, this stylish accessory is the key to making a statement, creating an impact and expressing individual style.

The simplest and most effective way to add interest to men’s formalwear, typically monotonous by design, the elegantly folded pocket square has been used to complement and add style to the two piece suit for centuries.

It’s fair to say that pocket squares have quite the life story – one that dates back thousands of years.

The origins of the pocket square

Strictly speaking, the pocket square as we know it today didn’t come to fruition until the 19th century. However, the concept can be dated as far back as Ancient Egypt and Greece, in the form of the handkerchief.

The wealthiest Egyptians and Greeks were known to carry small white linen handkerchiefs, commonly thought to be used for the sole purpose of keeping their personal hygiene and cleanliness in check. By 2,000 BCE, handkerchiefs were being coloured with red oxide powder in Ancient Egypt and worn as a status symbol.

Turning the handkerchief into something more than a functional item continued in Ancient Greece, where the highest nobles used perfumed cotton squares to cover the nose and mouth, in a bid to ward off bad odours. This trend was adopted throughout Western Europe in the 18th century, and it wasn’t long before the richest began to invest in silk handkerchiefs.

Soon transitioning into a fashion statement, the most affluent of society would be seen wearing decorative, embellished silk handkerchiefs – whilst the less privileged could afford nothing more than a simple cotton cloth to wipe away their sweat after a hard day’s labour.

It’s worth noting that during these times, the handkerchief continued to be carried in the trouser pocket – hence, it wasn’t a pocket square, just yet.

bespoke printed pocket squares
Adamley screen printed pocket squares for @turnbull_asser

Pocket squares in the 19th century

The surge in popularity of the gentleman’s two piece suit in the 19th century led to the evolution of the pocket square.

Two piece suits were at the height of men’s fashion, and it was widely decided that the handkerchief deserved a more prominent place in the ensemble. Making its way out of the trouser pocket and into the breast pocket of the suit jacket – the handkerchief became the pocket square.

It wasn’t until the early 1900’s when the accessory began to generate strong mainstream attention as they made their way into the scenes of popular Hollywood movies and TV shows, sported by major actors.

It became common around this time for gentlemen to reserve the breast pocket for their finest square, whilst the trouser pocket remained home to their practical handkerchief. Fast forward a few years, and the introduction of disposable tissues made the handkerchief almost obsolete.


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Pocket square vs handkerchief: What’s the difference?

Whilst the pocket square is essentially the handkerchiefs’ more coveted successor, the latter still has its place in the modern day world.

Where the pocket square is a purely decorative accessory, the handkerchief offers practicality and functionality for those who want it.

To provide this functionality to full success, handkerchiefs are usually made from cotton, whereas pocket squares can be made from many different fabrics such as linen, cotton, wool or silk.

Pocket squares are generally smaller, in order to be neatly folded and placed into the breast pocket without adding too much bulk. Handkerchiefs are usually larger and made from a thick, strong cotton so that they can easily absorb fluids to make them fit for purpose.

The main differentiator between the two is in the design. A key distinguishing factor is that the pocket square has a rolled hem, in order to create a fray resistant border and allow for precise, mitered corners.

Pocket squares in fashion

Whilst pocket squares found their place in fashion in the 19th century, it wasn’t until the 20th century when they became the must-have accessory for any style conscious gentleman.

The suit became naked without the pocket square, and everyone from high-profile celebrities to the man in the street, recognised its importance in enhancing the appearance of a smart outfit.

More recently, in the 21st century, the pocket square saw a true resurgence in popularity and they’re now more sought after than ever. Whilst we’ve entered a time where more informal, casual suits have become the norm, the pocket square is acknowledged as a way to accessorise with elegance, style and individuality.

Although the pocket square is no longer a suit essential, they remain one of the most popular accessories for men’s formalwear – offering a simple yet effective way to make a fashion statement and stand out from the crowd.


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Choosing a pocket square

Accessorising with a pocket square all comes down to the type of look you’re hoping to achieve, and the suit you want to pair it with.

Start with the suit first, then pick out a pocket square based on colours and designs which best complement it. It was once the golden rule to choose the same material for the tie and pocket square. Wool ties for example were to be paired only with wool pocket squares, and silk ties only with silk pocket squares.

While the matching of materials remains the most common and safest practice, we are starting to see more audacious approaches amongst fashion houses and trend setters with the combination of wool ties with silk pocket squares or vice versa. Carefully done, this mixture of textures can work beautifully together.

A pocket square should work with your outfit, not against it. It should be used to enhance and introduce new colours, designs and textures. It does not need to be the sole protagonist, rather work in tandem and harmony with the rest of your look to create a sense of balance and sophistication.

No matter the suit you choose to wear, you won’t be hard pressed to find the perfect square. With such an extensive range of prints, colours and fabrics on the market – there’s a pocket square for every stylish gentleman.

Whether you choose to go for a coherent look or make a bold, show-stopping statement, it’s an accessory that will only upgrade your look (providing you don’t match your tie and pocket square). As a general rule of thumb, try to ensure the pocket square design contains a section or element, however small, that incorporates the primary color of the tie being used.


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Looking to buy high-quality pocket squares? Adamley are the UK’s leading silk printer, and manufacturer of gentleman’s luxury accessories. We supply to established fashion houses as well as new fashion startups.

Crafted from finely woven silk and complete with Adalmey’s signature hand rolled edges, our silk pocket squares are a truly unique, premium product and can be printed with any design.

To make an enquiry for custom pocket squares, please get in touch with us.

We also have an exclusive range of printed silk pocket squares available to buy online.