Folding the Pocket Square

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The plain-weave glen check suit in From Russia with Love

Sean Connery’s and Daniel Craig’s Bonds are both fond of the folded handkerchief in their jacket breast pockets. Sean Connery’s Bond always wears white linen—it goes with everything—whilst Daniel Craig’s Bond matches his cotton handkerchief to his white and light blue shirts. Though silk handkerchiefs are made only to be used pocket squares, cotton and linen handkerchiefs can be used either as a pocket square or as something to blow one’s nose in. Folding a handkerchief to wear as a pocket square is relatively simple, but depending on the size of the handkerchief it may need to be folded differently to fit in the breast pocket. The handkerchief should be folded to fill the breast pocket without being so tight that it binds when you move around. Bond typically uses a rectangular fold know as the TV fold or the presidential fold, amongst other names.

Pocket-Square-Fold

Most breast pockets will fit a handkerchief folded to roughly 3 inches wide. That’s easy with squares around 11 to 12 inches and around 17 to 18 inches. For squares of both those sizes fold it in half right side over left, and then fold if in half again top to bottom. Now you should have a single folded edge along the top, and this will be the top edge of the handkerchief that shows outside the breast pocket. If your initial square measured around 11 to 12 inches just fold it in half right side over left and you’ll have the right size to put in your breast pocket. If your initial square measured more than 12 inches you’ll need to fold it in three sections, though you may need to make one of the three sections smaller to better fill the space in the breast pocket. Again, keep the outside edge a folded edge. In my visual demonstration above I’m using a 15-inch handkerchief.

So far I’ve left out the final steps of placing the handkerchief in the breast pocket. Before placing the handkerchief in the pocket you have the option to iron it flat, which can tame springy linen. Fold it in half again bottom to top and place it in the pocket with the amount you want to show. The handkerchief won’t sit at the bottom of the pocket, so to get it to fill the height of the pocket I hold the top in place whilst using the back end of a pen or pencil to push the rest of the handkerchief down into the bottom of the pocket.

Handkerchief-in-pocket

Bond keeps his handkerchiefs looking neat by keeping the edges of the handkerchiefs hidden, but dandies will show the edges of their handkerchiefs. Many are made with coloured borders that can be nice to show. If you choose to show the edges of the handkerchief, it looks best when the edges are rolled and sewed by hand. A machine-sewn edge should be kept hidden.

How do you like to wear your pocket squares?

25 COMMENTS

  1. Generally I do the straight edge but I also am a fan of the “Rose” technique. My rule of thumb for myself is Rose for anything with a pattern, straight edge for solids.

  2. Nice post on the pocket squares Matt. It made me wonder why Moore and Brosnan very rarely, if ever, worn pocket squares with their suits.
    Usually, I like to match my pocket square with the color of my shirt because that is what Craig usually does. However, I have read recently that exactly matching the square with any other piece of your outfit is considered a faux pas. What do you think Matt? Do you think it’s acceptable to wear a light pink cotton poplin shirt with a light pink satin pocket square? Or would it seem too affected?

    • I wouldn’t recommend matching your pocket square with your shirt unless both are solid white. As Connery demonstrates, white pocket squares go with everything.

      • Thanks Matt.
        I guess a white pocket square would be a lot safer and looks cleaner as well.

      • A pink pocket square would go great with something like a navy tie with pink dots or stripes and a blue or white shirt. I have a white shirt with blue and pink stripes (see the multi-stripe shirt toward the end of this article), and a pink pocket square would go great with that. When wearing a coloured pocket square it’s best to use them to pull out the small things in your outfit. Or if you’re wearing a jacket without a tie, you can choose your pocket squares as you would a tie and introduce some new colour. That’s a situation I often find myself in and I wear patterned–or even just solid–pocket squares for that. When I wear a tie I usually follow Sean Connery and wear solid ties, and if my shirt isn’t patterned I wear a white linen handkerchief just as I show here. It may not be an exciting choice, but it’s never a bad choice. When in doubt, wear a white pocket square.

      • I wear a white pocket square except when I wear a blue shirt. I find that a blue pocket square is visually appealing, yet for some reason I don’t match pocket squares when I wear any other colour shirt. I think that’s because blue is such a common colour for shirts I’m used to seeing it as part of my outfits. Having a slight difference in colour between my shirts and pockets squares helps as well, I find. While matching pocket squares to shirts is uncommon, I certainly got lots of compliments when I started to do it. But I feel like matching my pocket squares to any other colour shirt would be a bit much. *Maybe* light grey, but nothing else.

  3. I’ve shown the edges on my pocket squares, which are either hand rolled linen or cotton with an unstitched “frayed” looking edge. I might try your way next time though Matt.

  4. I’ve read somewhere (it might have been GQ’s ‘Style Guy’ Glen O’Brien) that directors don’t like pocket squares due to continuity issues with them shifting from scene to scene. It’s not such an issue for the TV fold but this may explain why Brosnan (whose suits would look good with a silk pouf) rarely bothered with any kind of pocket square?

    • Partly, perhaps, but it might just as easily be that pocket squares tend to go in and out of fashion.

      In the fifties and sixties they were common. In the seventies, eighties and nineties they were rather less so – those that wore them risked looking somewhat dandified. They are once again more commonplace, so Craig wears one.

      • Pierce Brosnan always wore a pocket square in Remington Steele during the 1980s, so they had quite a lot of exposure on American television. Brosnan wasn’t the only one.

  5. I wear EVER a pochette or a white handkerchief in the breast pocket of my jacket.
    I’m feel nude without.

  6. I own a grand total of… three proper pocket squares (discounting cheap handkerchiefs used only for function) and all are linen. Pretty unimaginative by many sartorial standards admittedly. Two from Kent Wang, white and sky blue, and one from Ledbury (white). Kent Wang squares are a great value at $20 a pop with hand rolled edges. The Ledbury, while good quality, may offend some sartorialists for having a hand stitched flat edge rather than rolled, but I find this looks rather nice as a crisp edge for square or point folds. However, it’s a bit bigger than I prefer at 15″. In my experience 12″ is a perfect size for most pockets. I don’t hide the hand rolled edges as Connery seems to do (which I didn’t notice until now) or iron my folds into place as that seems to cross the line into being too fussy.

    The light blue square has seen use as echoing another shade of blue such as a navy tie or thin blue stripes on a white ground shirt. Of course, like most people I just use the white ones for anything short of tweed, for which I need some appropriate silk squares. Haven’t yet attempted a light blue shirt with matching pocket square, but I somehow really liked that look in Skyfall despite it being outside your guidelines.

  7. I have a healthy collection of cotton, linen and silk pocket squares.

    My personal rules:

    1. Most formal:
    I tend to use flat folded pocket white squares for business, meeting clients or for interviews. Mostly when I want to look my sharpest and confident. I would also do so for very formal black tie affairs.

    2. Informal 2 peak fold:
    I then do a two pointed fold for informal business meetings, for cocktails, dinner parties. I would also do a 2 peak fold if I am possibly in a conference environment. This will be done with my white cotton or linen pocket squares. Equally, I will also do this with my darker coloured pocket squares.

    3. Everyday wear – informal
    I leave a puff for every other occasion as it is fun whilst it still maintains an attention to detail. There are alternative ways you can wear a puff but I generally hold my index finger and thumb together to create a hole in between them, stuff the pocket square through and use the puff from that to put out of my top pocket.

    There isn’t a rule of thumb for how to wear a pocket square for any particular occasion and I don’t think there should be – but it does my head sometimes in when girls come and try to re-arrange it to how ‘the pocket square should be worn’. But then again – its a great conversation starter.

  8. I once saw a picture of jfk sitting in the oval Office with a pocket square which showed his initials right above the pocket I thought it was a very interesting way of showing ones individuality without it being overbearing. anyone know how to do it?

    • Without seeing the photo, I can’t tell you how he did it. It depends on where the monogram is on the handkerchief. I personally don’t think it is tasteful to show off a monogram. There are many other ways to show one’s individuality. The simple act of showing a handkerchief in the breast pocket has plenty of individuality already.

  9. Thank you for this post. I wear pocket squares frequently, but either do the puffed form or I pinch the centers of each quadrant together (depending on whether I wish to display the edges of the design or the center).

    Until today I hadn’t worn a pocket square with my tuxedo and had no idea the proper way to do a straight fold.

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