Evolution of the Pocket Hanky
Pocket hankies, also known as a handkerchief, hanky or handkercher consists of a small square of thin material with hemmed seams that had its origins as a personal hygiene item. It is widely believed that King Richard II from England invented the forerunner of the pocket hanky during his reign from 1377 to 1399, for the sole purpose of wiping his nose. It has seen transformations from cleaning and wiping applications, to making a social statement, when worn from a man's breast pocket or as an accessory to a lady's purse. Hankies were also used as small carryalls and symbols of surrender during wartime, and used as impromptu bandages in emergency cases.
The material used for the hanky soon became a socio-economic symbol of elegance and status, depending upon the fabric used in its production. The more expensive the fabric, the more status was associated with the user. It took on the quality of being more of a decorative accoutrement, as opposed to a truly functional item. Functional hankies were and are still made for their practical absorbent qualities, typically made from cotton or a synthetic cotton blend. Exotic linens and silk showcase more of an elegant or personal statement, made to be seen and not used. Today’s decorative pocket hankies are a common, almost default addition to men's suits.
The application of the pocket hanky is decidedly formal and used as a decorative accessory item. Based upon their color and fabric material, they are often coordinated with the cut, style and color of the suit in such a way as to present a pleasing, esthetic look. The finer or more extravagant the material, the more alluring and attractive they are to the eye. Primary colors are very popular, but special embroidered designs are available, and as an age-old custom, hankies can bear the names or initials of the wearer. Hence hankies can be custom-designed to fit either an occasion or the owner's preference. Although some sees the pocket hankie as old-fashioned or traditional accessories, the trend of wearing them has not ceased, but become even more popular as an important dress accessory. In the instances where pocket hankies are used, they serve to aid the environment by negating the use and throwaway of disposable tissues.
As with the vast array of styles, embroidery and colors, hankies for the suit, also called a pocket square, have numerous folding configurations that make additional statements about the venue or wearer's personality.
The Presidential style, the easiest, consists of two right angles. A TV fold is folded diagonally, placing the pointed side inside the pocket, while the One-point fold is the same, but with the point exposed. The Two-point style has an off-center fold where there is no overlap between the two points. The Three-point has a triangular fold with the corners folded across and up to show three points, while the Four-point is similar but with an offset placement. The reverse of the Four-point is called the Cagney. The Cooper is a style that has a round puffy shape, also called the Puff. A reverse or backward Puff has the puff tucked inside and all the points out, resembling flower petals. The Astaire consists of a Puff with the points sticking out on either opposing side. A Straight Shell looks like nested shells when it is pleated down the middle and folded. The Diagonal Shell has a diagonal pleat and consists of one fold to the pocket hanky.