One question I often get asked is how to pick out the colour of your pocket handkerchief.

Well, I’ve written before (here) about harmonising in colours rather than matching – essentially picking out a second colour other than your tie’s that you think goes well with the shirt and jacket. Or, as someone put it to me recently, “so it’s like thinking of two ties that go with the outfit, and just using the colour of one of them for the handkerchief?” Yes, that’s a good way to put it. Of course, if you’re not wearing a tie, then the colour of your handkerchief should be thought of in the same way as the tie would have been (longer explanation here).

But. All this is to presume that you want a coloured, patterned or otherwise fancy pocket handkerchief. You may not. Indeed, your default setting should not be colour and pattern, but plain white linen. That’s in the pocket to start with. It is a conscious decision to add colour afterwards.

Bright, crisp white is the smartest colour a man can wear. This is why, back in the age when collars were starched and attached with studs, they were white. The body of the shirt may be striped or brightly coloured but the collar and cuffs were white. Because it is bright, because it is clean and because it provides the greatest contrast with the fabric of the jacket.

A strip of white around the neck and two around the wrists. It brings dignity and formality to any outfit, and today’s equivalent is the linen pocket handkerchief.

In the same way that today’s blue or pink shirts – that do not have detachable white collars – are a little more casual than those of old, the next option down your ladder of handkerchief choices should be something similar to the colour of the shirt.

Not exactly the same, necessarily, but similar. If the shirt is pale blue, go with a similar blue with a white polka dot. Or a darker, navy blue. Perhaps even a blue pattern with some white or yellow thrown in. The point is, the handkerchief will harmonise with the shirt if it’s dominant colour is the same.

White is the default; the second choice is to pick a colour similar to the shirt. Last is to pick something brightly coloured that plays a similar role to the tie (as described earlier on). Many men get this order entirely the wrong way around. They think that the handkerchief must play a similarly decorative role to the tie, as it is often silk and very much on display. That is your last choice – the sporty one, the more showy one, the rakish one.