Pocket Square vs Handkerchief: What is the Difference?

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If you are reading this, you have likely heard the terms ‘pocket square’ and ‘handkerchief’ and used them interchangeably. There is confusion surrounding pocket squares and handkerchiefs, mainly due to style experts misusing them. But there is a difference between the two.

Before we get into the main differences, we want to demonstrate the basic rule of thumb regarding these two items. One is for show and the other is to blow. If this isn’t clear enough for you, don’t panic – the pocket square is used for show in your jacket’s breast pocket. A handkerchief is to blow your nose and wipe perspiration, and belongs in your pants pocket or the lower jacket pockets.

But there is more to it than this, which is what we will talk about below. So keep reading to find out more about the pocket square vs handkerchief conundrum.

Differences Between a Pocket Square and Handkerchief

You may be wondering: “Can’t I use both to blow my nose?” Well, no. This is because there are three main differences, as below.

Fabric Materials

If you find a small square of material and can’t tell if it is a pocket square or handkerchief, look at the material. If it is cotton or a cotton blend, it is most likely a handkerchief. If it is made from silk, it is almost definitely a pocket square.

Most handkerchiefs are made using 100% cotton – and that is what you should look for in any handkerchief. The thing about cotton is that it gets softer the more you use it. Cotton is also hard-wearing, so a cotton handkerchief can easily last 20 to 25 years.

Cheaper material alternatives will typically include a blend of polyester and cotton – they have polyester mixed into the cotton. This is not necessarily an issue if you don’t plan on using the handkerchief for several years. But these blends also have a problem in that they don’t have the same style factor as cotton, nor do they absorb entirely as well as cotton.

As mentioned, a pocket square will generally be made from silk, but it can also be made from lightweight, thin linen, and this will never be good handkerchief material. Firstly, it is not absorbent, and secondly, silk is not made to be washed hundreds of times. Why? Because it will fall apart. This renders it useless as a handkerchief.

Pocket Square
Pocket Square

Size

Believe it or not, the size of these two items is quite important. When it comes to pocket squares, the smaller, the better – this is because they have to fit in your jacket’s breast pocket without making a large bump or bulge.

The physical weight of a pocket square and a handkerchief is normally about the same, with cotton being lighter than silk. But a handkerchief usually is larger, so when folded into the breast pocket, it becomes too bulky.

A pocket square is traditionally around 10 x 10 inches, but the finer the silk, the larger it needs to be to ensure it doesn’t slip down in your pocket – these can be up to 16 x 16 inches. A standard handkerchief is 12 x 12 inches but can be as large as 20 x 20 inches. Those extra inches are needed for a handkerchief but unwanted for a pocket square.

Thickness

A silk pocket square is normally paper-thin and soft. This is because it needs to fit in the smaller breast pocket without getting bunchy or looking odd. Your handkerchief will be thicker to be more absorbent.

Handkerchief
Handkerchief

Using a Handkerchief

You can use handkerchiefs for several purposes. All handkerchiefs are made to reduce waste and increase convenience. Here are some of their main uses:

  • Blowing your nose
  • Wiping sweat from your brow
  • Polishing your glasses
  • Drying or wiping your hands
  • Carrying snacks or food
  • Mopping up spills
  • Wiping your eyes and mouth

These are just some of the many uses for a handkerchief. It is a very diverse and useful item to carry with you at all times.

Using a Pocket Square

Pocket squares are purely decorative and for show. As such, they should complement your outfit. It should be folded precisely and placed neatly in the breast pocket of your jacket or blazer.

Folding a pocket square is very similar to origami and needs to be done correctly to look stylish.

We have found two great tutorials on how to fold pocket squares. One is for beginners and the other has a few options for those looking to add a little extra pizzazz to their pocket squares and outfit. Check them out below:

For beginners:

For pizzazz:

Rules for Pocket Squares

Here we will take a look at a few rules to keep in mind when choosing which pocket square to wear with your outfit:

  • Select the secondary color from your tie or shirt as the primary color for your pocket square.
  • Limit the patterns – make sure either your shirt or tie is a flat color, then accentuate your outfit with the pocket square.
  • Don’t match your tie to your pocket square directly.
  • Ensure that the pocket square fold has been chosen appropriate to the occasion. For business or formal occasions, use a one-point, two-point, or flat fold. For smart-casual events, you can use more flamboyant folds.
  • There are no rules for white pocket squares – they go with all ties, shirts, and jackets. So if you are not sure which color to choose, default to white.

Summary

A pocket square is made to fit in your jacket’s breast pocket and is purely for show. They are usually made from silk or thin linen. A good pocket square will be small enough to easily fold into your breast pocket to be flat and smooth.

A handkerchief is made to fit in your pants pockets or your jacket’s lower pockets and is for blowing your nose and wiping perspiration. Handkerchiefs are made from cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. It is best to purchase 100% cotton as these are highly absorbent and made to be washed hundreds of times.

The main differences between pocket squares and handkerchiefs, as discussed above, are their use, materials, thickness, and size. Now all that’s left is for you to select the perfect one for your needs!

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