A History of Pocket Squares – When are they traced back to?
The history of pocket squares dates back to the bone needle weaving technique, invented in the 4th Millennium BCE. This is believed to be the same date as the first pocket squares/handkerchiefs were traced back to. Although it cannot be confirmed what these first pocket squares were used for, it is known that these ‘cloth’s’ were dyed therefore indicating that they were used for decorative purposes.
2,000 BCE saw wealthy Egyptians carrying the first true pocket squares often bleached white; with statues of Keti and Senet carrying their pocket squares can be found in The Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna. Whereas the Classical Greek’s used them to hold a scent or perfume.
The Romans used pocket squares to start the beginning of the games (Gladiator Games) 250 BCE, whereby the Emperor would start the games by dropping his handkerchief to signal the start. Crowds then used these to cheer on the gladiators on with applause. The handkerchiefs were given as a gift from the emperor to the spectators, which in today’s terms would cost about £500 each!
By the 10th century, Silk, Linen and Wool embroidered pocket squares were being produced by the Egyptians and were known as ‘Khazz’. Due to the expense of the items, they were only used by the wealthy and therefore a way of distinguishing between the wealthy and poor.
From the 5th to the 15th Century, the middle ages saw the use of handkerchiefs as an applause during church services. From the 15th century lady’s would give a handkerchief to a lord, as these were seen as tokens of affection. Knights were also known wear handkerchiefs into battle to show a lady’s affection, and made the handkerchief a very respected and treasured item of clothing. Ladies would often purchase a plain handkerchief and stitch their own symbols and names into the cloth as a way of personalising the items.
The main man King Richard the Second is the person to thank for the fashion of pocket squares – he was the first to start wearing them as a fashion accessory in England, prior to that the majority of people in Britain used them for hygiene purposes. The popularity of pocket squares can also be seen in Shakespeare’s Othello where the pocket square / handkerchief is a vital piece in the plot. The shape was then defined by The Renaissance period which cut the cloth to squares. The ‘Pocket Square’ was then officially born!
A History of Pocket Squares – Exclusivity
The wealthy Germans, Italians, French and Americans then began to wear the pocket squares as a sign of their wealth and to distinguish themselves from the average civilians. At this time in Italy, they were leading the industry with their embroidery and lace designs which was then taken to France by Catherine de Medici (Henry II’s Wife) and the handkerchiefs were often scented due to the Italian perfumeries settling in France. The handkerchiefs become extremely valuable (as in Roman times) that they were named in deeds and Wills to pass from generation to generation. The value was generated due to the availability and design of the lace and materials which were used. The Germans picked up on this trend in the 16th century. The Tudor Monarchs continued this exclusive trend with Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth being presented with Handkerchiefs for a New Years presents. Monarchs were often given the handkerchiefs as gifts.
By the 1900′s Gents living in the more developed countries would not leave home without their pocket square. These would be made from linen, cotton or silk and designed to compliment a man’s shirt or tie, but never directly match – this is still rule No.1 today!
Today Gents will style their pocket squares with the various folding techniques and styles, to further separate themselves from other gents wearing the accessory. The fold of the pocket square also gives the gent to show his personality through his pocket square depending on his fold. Pocket squares are also said to be the cheapest accessory for a man to step up in class with one single item… strange but true.