What is a pocket square?

A pocket square is a small rectangle of cloth that fits snugly in the breast pocket of your jacket, providing a stylish hint of fabric peeking out to increase visual appeal.

Zach Efron in a suit
All eyes on that square.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: do you blow your nose with it? The answer is nope! You’re thinking of a handkerchief.

Or even better – a HankyBook.

So, why have a non-functional piece of cloth rest in a non-functional pocket?

Fashion, baby!

Madonna sips tea

A pocket square is a low effort, subtle way to upgrade your outfit from so-so to trés chic.

Difference between a pocket square and a handkerchief

At first glance a pocket square is not that different from a handkerchief – in fact, one could even consider it a direct descendant.

After keeping handkerchiefs all bundled up in their trouser pockets with coins and bills and keys, people started to realize that the breast pocket might be a more sanitary alternative. 

Soon enough, a pop of color or a sleek peek of silk became all the rage, and the pocket square as a decorative accessory was born. 

However, there are still some key differences to remember:

#1 – Use

As mentioned above, handkerchiefs and pocket squares have very different functions. This may be a bit confusing, especially as fashion articles and style experts seem to use the terms interchangeably. 

But pocket squares are for fashion, not the flu!

Fashion dance

Simply put: a hanky is for blowing, while a pocket square is for showing! 

Less simply put: you use a handkerchief to blow your nose, mop up spills, or even just to dab the sweat off your brow. 

A pocket square’s function is style – it can be used to express your creativity, to create a dapper 1920s feel, or simply to add a pop of color to an otherwise drab suit.

#2 – Size

In general, pocket squares tend to be smaller than handkerchiefs. 

Handkerchiefs go in your much larger trouser pocket, while pocket squares go in your smaller breast pocket – a too large square might end up looking bulky instead of the sleek and chic shape you want. 

Plus, if the cold season is hitting you hard, you want a handkerchief to be as large as possible for… reasons.  

#3 – Fabric

Pocket squares come in a variety of materials, such as linen and silk – non-absorbent fabrics you definitely don’t want to blow your nose on. Handkerchiefs on the other hand, are generally made from cotton.

This is for peak softness, ultimate absorbency, and sheer durability – cotton can still hold firm wash after wash.

Wool… not so much.

Pocket square suit
Have you learned nothing?

How do you wear a pocket square?

When used correctly, a pocket handkerchief can be a great accent piece of an outfit. Available in a variety of patterns and styles, it can liven up even the dullest of business suits while drawing attention upwards to your face. 

Basically, how your dad used ties, but much cooler.

So, how should you wear the square? Here are some tips:

Mix don’t match

A pocket square shouldn’t be the exact color and fabric of your tie – that’s just overly matchy and may look tacky. 

Instead, it should complement your whole look – look out for secondary colors in your shirt or tie and choose a square that incorporates them. 

Don’t overdo it

Although pocket squares come in many fun and interesting patterns, it’s important not to go overboard. Don’t match a loud paisley square with a pinstriped suit – rather wear it with a flat, monochrome piece.

Hannibal Lector folding legs
Hannibal knows what’s up.

When in doubt, go white

The classic pocket square color, white really does work with every jacket or tie combo. Just keep it clean, fold it neatly, and you really can’t fail!

How do you fold a pocket square?

The pocket hanky originated as a way to express creativity and style. As a result, there are many ways to fold and style it. Here are three of the most popular methods:

The Classic Pocket Square Fold

You can’t go wrong with a classic!

Pocket square fold
  1. Lay your pocket square out flat.
  2. Fold the square in half once.
  3. Form a square by folding up the bottom.
  4. Fold lengthwise one more time to match the width of your pocket. Tuck the folded square into your jacket pocket with the edges facing up.

One-Point Pocket Square Fold

One point to you for style.

Pocket square folding
  1. Lay your pocket square out flat.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one edge to meet the opposite one.
  3. Fold one edge in and across about two-thirds of the way.
  4. Repeat step three with the remaining edge.

The Scallop Pocket Square Fold

Mmm, scallops.

Pocket square folding method
  1. Lay your pocket square out flat.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the other.
  3. Fold the triangle in half again, bringing the two corners at either end of the first fold together.
  4. Curl one of the doubled corners in and downward. Repeat this process for the other corner, laying this one over the first one. 
  5. Tuck the triangular point down into your pocket.

Thanks to Ties.com for the folding tips!

Make your own pocket square

What’s even more dapper and dashing than a man with a pocket square? A man who made his own! 

That’s right, DIYing your own accessory is easy, even for those less adept with a thimble.

Cat sewing
Anyone can do it!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your favorite fabric. Silk, linen, wool, and cotton are all good choices.
  • A sewing machine. Yes, really. Go ask your granny, or better yet – invest! 
  • An iron. You already have one of these. Right?
  • Fabric scissors. You can get great quality ones at any haberdashery. 
  • Measuring tape. No guesstimating on this one!

Here’s how:

  1. Cut out a square from your fabric using your handy scissors. As mentioned, pocket squares range from 10 x 10 inches to 17 x 17 inches. Stay on the larger side if you’re nervous – you can always cut it smaller later.  
  2. Create a hem by folding one side in about ¼ inch and ironing it in place. Make a second fold and iron it to cover up the frayed edges. Repeat for all four sides of your square.
  3. Stitch around your square with your sewing machine. To do this, simply place your fabric under the needle of your machine, lower the presser foot, and start sewing with a rapt tap on the pedal followed by a back stitch. Leave the needle in the fabric once you hit the corners and lift the presser foot to turn it ninety degrees. Place the presser foot back down and continue sewing, making sure to trim the threads at the ends.
  4. And voila! Fold and place it in your pocket. You’re looking sharp! 

Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes. Remember they’ll be half concealed in your pocket, making this a very forgiving DIY project. And once you get the hang of the basics you can get even more creative with different fabrics, patterns, and colors. 

Mad Men pocket square

Final Thoughts

When you want a splash of style, a pocket square is an elegant choice to liven up your jacket look. 

But when your nose needs a blow, or your forehead has a glow – stick to an actual handkerchief, or a HankyBook, to clean up the mess. 


Now that you’re a pocket square expert, why not find out all about the functionally fabulous handkerchief.

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