Rule 7: Handkerchiefs should compliment the texture of jackets

Of all the colours and materials available for a pocket handkerchief, white linen is probably considered the smartest and most formal.

Why? Well it’s a question of two factors – compliment and contrast.

A silk tie is intuitively smarter than a wool or linen one. The shiny lustre of the silk and the way it contrasts with the matte texture of the suit creates a pleasing contrast. So why isn’t the same true for handkerchiefs? Why isn’t silk smarter than linen?

Probably because the contrast between silk and wool has already been done with the tie selection. More silk would be too much. Instead, white linen echoes the sharpness and matte texture of the suit, complimenting rather then contrasting.

This is also the reason a wool handkerchief would be too casual. Yes, it is matte and rough in texture like the suit, but it is not sharp like the suit. It only shares some of the same characteristics.

So this is the rule. Or rather, this the reason that men of taste have generally worn a white-linen handkerchief with their wool suit and silk tie. There was a period where cream silk was dominant, but linen has generally been more common, and certainly looks more appropriate today.

So how to break the rule? Well, most men don’t wear a tie every day. If you don’t, there’s no silk to contrast with your suit – which is a pity. So you could a coloured silk handkerchief instead of a linen one when you are tie-less.

Generally I go between linen, silk and wool depending on how smart I want to be. 

Another way that the rule is broken: tweed jackets. Men of style will often say they like silk handkerchiefs with their tweed jackets because of the contrast in texture. But they weren’t saying that about their suit were they? Then it was all about compliment.

One reason is that woollen or casual ties are often worn with tweed. Another may be that the sheer roughness of tweed needs greater silk to balance it. Certainly, a silk handkerchief is often worn when tie-less with tweed.

Having understood the principles behind this behaviour, it is easy to find creative ways to make use of its wisdom without necessarily following it.

In this case, be aware that all decisions with accessories are about complement and contrast.

That’s why a white-silk handkerchief with a tie often looks a little cheap and feminine. And it is a good argument for wearing woollen ties or handkerchiefs with modern, shiny worsteds. Just not both, probably.

Consider compliment and contrast.

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Arctic Penguin

That’s a ridiculously beautiful suit/ensemble. Is it tweed?

Arctic Penguin

And the more unique for it, as well. I checked their site this afternoon and they’ve nothing left resembling that pattern in tweed. But the fact that you’re wearing it gives me more confidence in trying their services, so thank you for the unspoken recommendation.

Jay Hails

*complement

Martin Fang

Let me see if I got this correct? Linen/cotton ties are usually associated with spring/summer and woolen ties with autum/winter. But when it comes to pocket squares this does not apply. Instead linen is considered the smartest, then silk and then wool?

Does this mean that you wear wool pocket squares year round? Or maybe that you substitute woll with cotton in the spring/summer when you want a more casual option?

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

Generally I agree with yr above assertions. I would differ in the assessment of natural colored silk in the breast pocket. I used to exclusively wear very fine (Grandfather’s pre 1950s) silk pocket scarves which were hand rolled and I believe had aged to their slightly yellowed finish. I still have them, but mostly reserve them for special occasions now. They look fine with more robust woolen suitings. I typically stick with plain hand rolled linen in white or naturalish-white now, whatever the circumstances, a couple of my few strayings from this personally imposed rule (I always have something in my breast pocket), being in sport coats, or casual sport suits, where I always have either a silk-cotton bandana style scarf, or one of a few ancient madder silk scarves in decidedly muted patterned small paisleys, or a double bar striped silk pocket scarf in fairly bold burgundy on orange, or my most formal aside from the plain antique white, which is a creamy white silk with hand rolled burgundy edges which I do up in a hide and go seek diagonal square fold so it’s barely visible. Nothing beats out white linen, but it is good for anything and everything, I would say.

I enjoyed this article immensely. Thank you, and thank you for allowing me to rant upon my favorite subject.

Joseph

“Instead, white linen echoes the sharpness and matte texture of the suit, complimenting rather then contrasting.”

Just struck me that this ought to read, “complementing rather than contrasting.”

Really enjoyed the article Simon, thank you.