Is that gorgeous piece of silk in your top pocket a pocket square or a handkerchief? Or even a pochette?
Let's start at the beginning... are you sitting comfortably! Way before the pocket square there was the handkerchief.
The word handkerchief was originally 'hand kerchief' and came into popular use in the 16th Century. Kerchiefs were small pieces of cloth that, since around the Middle Ages, were used to cover the head and hair. People eventually began to use their kerchiefs to wipe the forehead or the nose and kept them in their pockets. The 'hand' was added to distinguish this from the more formal head-covering kerchief.
These handkerchiefs were made of different cloths depending on your socio-economic status and ranged from linen through to the more expensive cotton and ultimately silk. Even these silk versions were practical items for personal hygiene only. They were not used for display purposes, apart from perhaps the 18th Century ladies who often waved white handkerchiefs at parades (especially where there were lots of handsome young soldiers) to show their appreciation.
It wasn't until the 20th Century that the handkerchief began to make itself more publicly visible by making appearances in the top pockets of gentlemen's suits. The production value of these new accessories soared as they asserted themselves as aspirational items. This manifested itself in the use of more luxurious fabrics, decorative print and the hand-rolling of hems. These new items were referred to as Pocket Squares rather than handkerchiefs to distinguish them from cheap, mass produced things that you would blow your nose on and hide in your trouser pocket.
So the answer to the question “Handkerchief or pocket square?” is definitely pocket square if you wouldn’t want it covered in snot.
In continental Europe you can also refer to a pocket square as a ‘pochette square’ or just a ‘pochette’. This is a French word for wallet, clutch bag or pocket and if you are really trying to show your Eurotrash credentials this is the word for you. After all pocket squares are an expression of the kind of sprezzatura style that is oh-so Riviera so why not get into the spirit!
We hope that’s cleared up that question for you. Please point people to this article if their response on seeing your amazing, high quality, hand-rolled, 100% silk, Furious Goose pocket square is “Gee buddy…. That’s a pretty snazzy handkerchief!”. I mean... really...