Handkerchiefs, Pocket Squares and More - What’s the Difference?

Small accessories can often make a dramatic difference to an outfit. This is especially true when it comes to gentlemen’s accessories, as men’s fashion has always been somewhat conservative and slightly restrictive in regards to expression of personal style. Because of this, subtle flashes of color - matching neck ties and pocket squares, for example, or personalized cufflinks and jacket linings - became important weapons in a gentleman’s arsenal, and are capable of making a memorable and effective impact.  

Among the most elegant accessories, associated with a classic sense of sophistication and a vintage, old world charm, is the pocket square. But what is a pocket square? How do you recognize a good quality one? And how do they differ from a handkerchief or kerchief? Use our handy brief guide to find out more.  

Pocket Squares 

The pocket square or pocket handkerchief is an item used to add an element of personality and distinction to a jacket. Historically, the pocket square has been primarily associated with gentlemen’s fashion. However, this simple square of silk, cotton, or linen is today worn by both gentlemen and ladies, and is an increasingly popular accessory which is capable of transforming a whole look. A boldly colored, illustrated or patterned pocket square adds a touch of panache and extravagance to a dull suit, just as a darker or plainer one brings a subtle grace and understated elegance to any sharp outfit. 

The key identifying feature of a pocket square is mainly that this is not a functional or practical item. Throughout the centuries, this was not the case: pocket squares were perfumed and used as protection from bad odors, they were used for hygiene purposes, as status symbols, and much, much more. Today, however, pocket squares are purely decorative, and are used as way of ‘tying’ an outfit together. Worn carefully folded in the top left pocket of a jacket, they add an eye-catching touch of contrast, demonstrating a strong sense of style and color. When worn with a matching tie or bow tie, and a harmoniously hued suit jacket, shirt and trousers, they can be the perfect finishing touch for a striking look, a sure sign of an individual comfortable with their unique sense of fashion.

Generally speaking, high quality pocket squares can be identified by the quality of the hem. Cheaper, less desirable pocket squares will have a machine-sewn hem, while the more sought-after examples will always be hand-rolled. As well as this, a high quality pocket square will feel thicker, and will not wrinkle so easily - an important factor when one considers it must remain folded in a jacket pocket, looking smooth, sharp and elegant.


Commonly confused with a pocket square - and understandably so, for they share an identical origin - the handkerchief is nonetheless a very different item. Although also a square of fabric, usually cotton, linen, or a synthetic blend, the common handkerchief is a practical item, intended for a very different purpose. People keep handkerchiefs in their pockets or handbags, and they are used for hygienic purposes; for wiping their hands and brows, or blowing the nose. Most people ceased to use a handkerchief in this way during the 1950s, when disposable tissues became widely and cheaply available. However, others prefer the feel of a fabric handkerchief, or have a different sort of attachment to them.


Kerchiefs and neckerchiefs - from the French couvre-chef, or ‘cover the head’ - are usually larger pieces of cloth, either triangular or square in shape, which are designed to be tied around the neck, for decorative purposes, or over the top of the head, to protect bold men from the sun. These come and go from the fashion world quite regularly, and can be rather beautiful items if they are well made and designed with care.


So, there you have it - a quick guide to pocket squares and handkerchiefs; elegant accessories for those who seek to make an impact with their apparel.