We have Pestilence and the Plague to thank for the invention of the pocket square: as early as 500 B.C. English and French noblemen carried perfumed and embroidered hankies in order to cover their noses from the stench of the streets and other people.
Initially, pocket squares came from the linen handkerchiefs used for personal hygiene and like so many sartorial advances of the time we have nobility to thank. It is rumoured that the handkerchief was invented by Richard II of England (1367-1400) “as a little piece of cloth for the lord king to wide and clean his nose”.
Handkerchiefs were placed in the trouser pocket since it was seen as unclean to show a “used” handkerchief in the visible breast pocket of a man’s jacket but as the 2 piece suits came into fashion in the 19th century, many men started to place their clean pocket square into the breast pocket of their jacket to protect it from dirt and other objects, such as coins, in their trousers’ pockets.
The look of the pocket square in the breast pocket became more popular. By the 1920s the pocket square had become more of a fashion accessory rather than having any other purpose.
The Kleenex company, founded in 1924, was the first company to make disposable handkerchiefs. As a result, the linen handkerchief was replaced and only used as a fashion accessory in form of a pocket square which is how we know it today.
Pocket squares have enjoyed a real resurgence in the last few years and remain popular as a simple way to embellish any outfit.
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