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The History of Pocket Squares

There is no clear origin of pocket squares. Some historians trace its roots back to ancient Egypt, while others link it to ancient Greece or Rome. Other versions of the story connect the rise of the pocket square to early members of the Catholic Church, while others claim that King Richard II of England was the first person to wear a handkerchief as a fashion accessory. What we do know for sure is that starting in the 1400s, the handkerchief became a popular item in Europe. By the 16th century, valuable materials were being used to make handkerchiefs, and some were even handed down from generation to generation as heirlooms. A popular story holds that the size was made into a uniform 16” x 16” square after Marie Antoinette insisted that her husband decree it. When 2-piece suits became a staple of gentlemen’s fashion in the 19th century, men moved their handkerchiefs to their top left breast pockets, in part to keep the valuable cloths separate from dirty items like coins. This gave rise to the pocket square as we know it today. Pocket squares became more and more popular among men in Europe and the United States in the 20th century. Different folding techniques even began to emerge. Yet after Kleenex introduced their titular product, pocket squares began to lose their usefulness. Still, stars like James Cagney and Fred Astaire helped to popularize pocket squares as fashion accessories and they continued to be widely worn. But when workwear became more casual toward the end of the 20th century, pocket squares lost their everyday appeal once and for all. Today, they are not generally seen in everyday settings but are still often worn with semi-formal and formal attire.

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