The Fall and Rise of the Pocket Square

If you are the sort of person who takes an interest in contemporary fashion trends, you can not have helped but notice that one highly distinctive accessory is most definitely back on the cards, after some time out in the wilderness. The pocket square has made its triumphant return, and these elegant suit accessories have once again hit the headlines, dominated fashion shows, featured heavily on red carpet events and rocketed back to the top of people’s clothes shopping lists. How has this happened, where have they been... and what is next for the pocket handkerchief?  

Fashion is a fickle business at the best of times, but for items to drift in and out of style is not unusual. Indeed, it is one of the defining characteristics of the business. That being said, it is wonderful to see pocket squares back on the catwalk, and prominently featuring in luxury department store windows once again; these are uniquely expressive, exciting style accessories which achieve far more than the neckties, bow ties and cravats they are often paired with.  

Why is it so good to see the pocket square back with renewed vigor and vitality? Partly, because high quality pocket squares manage to do two main things very well indeed: they give the wearer an opportunity to express a subtle flash of their personality - something which is given far higher value today than was the case in the past - as well as demonstrating that the wearer has gone to greater lengths to present themselves elegantly. Nowadays, in this fast paced, highly competitive world, items such as pocket squares help those who care to stand out from the crowd, to reach a level of expression which assists them in feeling confident, looking sophisticated, and dealing with all that the city has to throw with elegance, unflappable sharpness and poise. Leading brands such as Robertto’s are making pocket handkerchiefs with all of these principles in mind, and are providing elegant, style-conscious individuals with a wide and exciting range of pocket squares, beautifully designed and illustrated to allow those unique fashion senses to come to the fore.  

Let us take a quick look at how the pocket square made its comeback, and consider for a moment what inspired this shift back to timeless, vintage style. 

The Golden Age Of The Pocket Square

When we think of pocket squares, our minds immediately go back to the early decades of the 20th century, and to the sort of suited-and-booted stars of the silver screen who always had exquisitely creased trousers, pomaded hair, and were never seen without a pocket square. Cary Grant, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart… these men and their contemporaries were all gentlemen who took sartorial excellence to new heights, and who had enormous influence over men’s fashion throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s - surely the golden years of the pocket square. Back then, men’s fashion was quite limited; if you wanted to impress, you wore a tailored suit… and there were not really many other options. As such, items such as pocket squares became increasingly important, as a way of adding distinguishing features and personalization to otherwise fairly standard dress codes. In many ways, this spirit of reinvention is also partly the reason for the handkerchief’s popularity today – pocket square wearers want to hark back to what we feel was a far better time in regards to style and sophistication, while taking advantage of the far wider set of options available regarding color, form, pattern and design. 

Decades in the Wilderness

Of course, no truly great fashion accessory is ever going to always be in demand - the world of fashion simply does not work that way. By the end of the 1950s, pocket squares were beginning to fade from the spotlight. The rebellious, counter-cultural look was all the rage for young, style-conscious men at the time, from Marlon Brando’s biker clothes and leather cap in The Wild One to James Dean’s sweaters and quiff in Rebel Without a Cause. The 1960s took things even further - from the perspective of the teenagers and young adults at the time, the pocket square had almost become emblematic of a different generation, associated with uptight, conservative dress and values. When authority figures such as Winston Churchill continue to fold a handkerchief in their top pocket, the youth had to find a way to rebel.  

However, things had perhaps gone too far by the 90’s. Rave culture, Grunge and the baggy styles of hip hop and Britpop had all had a massive impact on fashion for the under 40s, and a scruffy, devil-may-care attitude was everywhere regarding clothes for both men and women. It was only inevitable that there would eventually be a backlash. 

This fight back against untidy dress began - as most things do - in the world of pop music, with high profile rappers and pop stars beginning to explore nostalgic, sleeker looks, reminiscent of the 40s and 50s film stars the previous generation had eschewed so strongly. Tailored suits began to appear in music videos, and even stalwarts of the rock music scene began rummaging around for pocket squares and ties, harking back both musically and sartorially to the brief ‘mod’ scene of the 1960s, which was characterized by a small group of young British musicians and artists obsessively wearing slim fitting suits, ties, pocket squares and riding Italian scooters. Pocket squares began reappearing more often as the millennium drew to a close, yet the turn of the century was to see an explosive resurgence of this elegant suit accessory few could have anticipated. 

The Comeback 

The first part of the twenty-first century saw the pocket square return with astounding vigor. Elegant pop culture reference figures such as James Bond were back, suited and sporting handkerchiefs in new, more masculine forms. TV shows such as the seminal Mad Men were enormous cultural talking points - the fictional character Don Draper perhaps had more of a hand in bringing the sharp suit and pocket square look back to the high street than any real, living person did. Designers such as Tom Ford were also instrumental, putting pocket squares firmly back on the catwalk and on the cover of all the magazines worth reading; male fashion was being spoken of again in positive terms, with Sinatra and his gang being spoken of in the same breath as the latest chart-topping pop act. Suddenly, everybody was rushing to reference the Golden Age of Hollywood - everything worth its salt was given a vintage edge, was taken back in time and brought back to the present with a bang. But why? 

It is not an easy question to answer. Partly, it could have something to do with a 21st century youth movement concerned with authenticity, and rejecting cheaper, mass-produced consumer culture. It could be connected to the stronger emphasis put on luxury items, artisanship and craftsmanship - something which was certainly missing from the previous few decades. It could merely be because of the cyclical nature of fashion, with the 50’s style being the latest decade to get the new millennium treatment.  

However, we think it is far simpler than this: people have once again woken up to the fact that high quality pocket squares, with their silk edges, hand rolled hems and fascinating designs, just look fantastic, and demonstrate that all important willingness to go the extra mile, and stand head and shoulders above the rest.