Not to be confused with the common handkerchief, the pocket square is the sartorial panache you’ve been looking for, to give your suit look a lift. So, how to wear a pocket square? And, which one is the most acceptable and versatile? Welcome to your official guide to pocket squares, gents.
Why Wear One?
Pocket squares really took off in 1920s with men flaunting the glorified handkerchief in their breast pockets, pride of place for all the other flappers to see. Nowadays, the pocket square is very much back in fash – just take a look at Pitti Uomo and trackside at race day. But for some, it’s considered more an optional accessory to a suit, casual blazer or sports jacket, while others don’t even know what it is. To get you in the sartorial mood, here are the smart reasons to invest in one today:
- Pocket squares style up a stoic suit, taking it from business smart to weekend chic – instantly.
- Changing pocket squares can give the illusion that you own several suits and separates, without even changing your shirt.
- Pocket squares inject personality and individual style into a look, which can be difficult with the formal constrictions of tailoring. The whole idea is to play around with fabric, colour and pattern, leaving your suit and shirt as the canvas.
How To Style It
Now that we’ve run you past the nuts and bolts of the pocket square, it’s time to master the art of styling and folding the pocket square. First thing, avoid matching your tie and pocket square; it’s kitsch and looks overdone. Instead, match your tie to just one of the colours in the your pocket square, or go for a complete contrast colour. Mixing prints? Just make sure the patterns are on scale and your shirt and jacket are plain.
Here are the five main folds to nail, choosing the one that best reflects the dress code and your personal style. Just don’t fold it too precisely, otherwise you’ll have a Japanese paper swan sitting pretty in your pocket.
The Straight Fold
Perfect for: formal occasions such as black tie and a corporate office.
Best with: cotton fabric squares as the cloth tends to fold sharper on the edge, compared to silk. A white pocket square is a classic that all men should own. Blue, navy or pastel, black and a flecked neutral pattern look dapper for sophisticated soirees.
How to fold: start with the pocket square laid flat. Fold in half from left to right, then fold the bottom up the meet the top, but only three-quarters of the way. Then fold the whole shape in thirds, so the middle section will fit in your suit jacket pocket.
One Corner Fold
Perfect for: semi-formal occasions such as cocktail attire or adding a smart edge to casual tailoring.
Best with: all fabric types, just base your choice – silk, wool or cotton – on slant of your look. Play around with sartorial prints when going cotton – checks, stripes and dots – and silk – in a saturated block colour or sark neutral – to make the most of the sheen.
How to fold: lay the pocket square in a diamond shape. Fold upward in half. Bring the left and right bottom corners to meet in the middle (it should ressemble an envelope). Fold the square bottom up toward the top, but not all the way, leaving a peak.
Perfect for: those wanting a stand-out fold that’s relatively easy to manoeuvre.
Best with: silk squares, as the two-point’s poignant points means you go let loose with the fold. Accentuate the artistry with a flashy colour and pattern: checks or geometric prints fair well with the angular peaks.
How to fold: start with a diamond shape. Bring the bottom corner up to the top corner, but slightly to the side, to create the twin-peaks shape. Then, cross the left hand side corner over the right side corner meeting past the middle. Now, fold the new square shape bottom to the top, but not all the way.
Perfect: business attire and men who want to show-off their pocket square repertoire.
Best with: Cotton squares to accentuate the fold lines or ‘crown’ effect achieved with this style. Opting for a pattern? Keep in gingham check or polka dot the print doesn’t get lost in the folds.
How to fold: start with the diamond square. Fold the bottom corner up to the top just to the left of the top corner. Fold the left side towards the right, and up to the right of the middle point of the crown. Turn the pocket square around and adjust the points of the crown. Tuck as needed and place your pocket square in your jacket pocket so all three points are visible.
The Casual Fold
Perfect for: lazy people and for men who want the sprezzatura look; like all this just happened naturally.
Best with: silk squares, as they are more fluid to move and create volume. Again, accentuate the artistry with colour and pattern, this time going crazy for florals or a graphic print.
How to fold: lay the pocket square flat. Pinch the middle of the fabric, and elevating the cloth off the table and letting the corners fall naturally. Then, hold the middle of the pocket square with your index finger and thumb, folding the bottom upward so it ressembles a bunched flower. Stylishly shove it in your pocket.
What To Look For
You basically have three fabric choices with the pocket square: cotton, silk and wool/cashmere. Or a blend of two. Polyester exists but its a cheap alternative to silk. Cotton should be considered for the straight fold, offering a crisp edge when pressed, appearing elegant with squared off finish, perfect for a tuxedo. Silk offers a subtle sheen to a matte cotton jacket, and plumps up nicely for a casual square fold. Wool and cashmere add a wintry texture to a mohair suit, very English countryside.
Most pocket squares – like the name suggests – are flat square pieces of cloth, not oblong like a neckerchief. If you want hand-made craftsmanship, opt for a square that has rolled edges. Unlike machine-sewn edges, these are hand-rolled for a seamless finish and are void of exposed stitching, which can look casual. And like silk and cashmere, come at a higher price.
Colour & Pattern
Kick off your pocket square collection with plain colour styles first for simplicity and ease into your current tailoring (you needn’t go buy a suit because your pocket square doesn’t match). White, navy and burgundy are great starting points, in a block colour – one silk, one cotton.
Also venture into print, sticking to timeless tailoring patterns such as checks, paisley and pinstripes as well as polka dots. Look to saturated jewel tones – turquoise, jade, sapphire and ruby – as well as black, grey and white – perfect for the office.
Now, flick your eyes above for the 20 best pocket square brands for men this season.