White handkerchief with navy blazer

Cream handkerchief linen

cream cashmere handkerchief

Handkerchiefs are not easy for a modern man. Few things are as conspicuous and unusual. Enough people wear ties and waistcoats to make them anonymous – even hats, which change the silhouette more than anything else, are more likely to be forgiven for their practicality.

One easy way to reduce the impact of a handkerchief is to soften its contrast with the rest of the outfit. In fact, of the three main things that affect the formality of a hank – colour, pattern, texture – it is colour that makes the biggest difference. 

Above I have shown three outfits of mine to illustrate this softening.

At top is a pure-white linen handkerchief, worn against a navy hopsack jacket. The contrast between hank and jacket is high, creating a smarter, more formal outfit. That contrast is down to the jacket as much as the hank, of course, but a pure white hank on any jacket is going to be smart.

In the next image is a cream linen handkerchief. The difference with its cousin is small, but there is a definite softening of the contrast. This is helped by the sandy colour of the jacket, which itself is closer to the cream of the hank. The outfit overall is intended to more casual, and this is reflected in the choice of handkerchief.

In the third picture we have a cream cashmere hank (all are from Anderson & Sheppard). The cream colour is similar to the linen above, but the effect is softened further by the material, which has greater texture and absorbs more light. This is the most casual outfit of the three – with tweed and denim – and a stark white linen hank, as in picture number one, would be far too smart for it. 

One other variation to consider is grey, above. As with cream, the grey removes contrast in the handkerchief and so softens it. In this example the white ‘shoestring’ around the edge also introduces some contrast, keeping in relatively smart, but overall it is not as formal as the plain white alternative.

I find this formality of handkerchiefs interesting because it is slightly different to other items of clothing such as shoes and ties.

The effect of those three variables (colour, pattern, texture) is broadly the same: more colour is less formal; more pattern is less formal. But the order is different. Texture is crucial to the formality of a shoe (suede/calf) but less so a handkerchief (silk is usually less formal than linen, but more formal than wool).

The most important thing to consider with a hank is colour and contrast. If you want to wear one and stand out just a little less, dial down both of them. 


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Don’t think this article works as a piece about handkerchiefs. The detail is not easily attainable with the quality of the photos (most likely due to the devices they are being seen on).
BUT as a overall look at three jacket, cardigan , shirt outfits ……!!!!
My favourite is easily the tweed . A beautiful , rich natural colour.

Nick Inkster

I actually find shop bought pocket hanks too big for the job; there is too much bulk inside the breast pocket. A local seamstress makes them for me, complete with rolled edges, from pretty much any fabric I choose, and normally around 8″ square. This leaves plenty of choice as to fold etc, but doesn’t bulk out the pocket.


I tried smaller 8″ pocket squares for the same reason (bulk) but found that they quickly fell down into the pocket.

Nick Inkster

Not really been a problem, although rather like the POW constantly tugging his shirt cuff, I find myself gently tweaking the top of the hank. Agree that linen t&cs to stay put as there is more friction.


Yeah the tweed one is my favorite too but i’m not sure i could pull it off, i guess some people can and others can’t.


David Craggs

Other than with evening attire or a morning suit I’m not a great fan of the pocket handkerchief.
I think they distract from beautifully cut suits and jackets and come across as a little affectation.
If they must be done I suppose the flat top ‘Mad Men’ look is best but for me, less is definitely more.
But hey, it’s a broad church and “all styles are served here”.


What is the best style and technique for putting the hank in?


You’re statement that “silk is less formal than linen…” seems off when I think of the correct pocket square for white tie, the most formal outfit, which I thought was white or cream silk. Yes?


But maybe I’m wrong about my point above.


I’m not sure why you would need or want a handkerchief in the third example particularly in the quite narrow patch style pocket…


Fair enough! 🙂


A white handkerchief should always be Irish linen, be stuffed and be worn with a suit. A silk handkerchief should be puffed and should (mostly) worn with a blazer or sport jacket.

Richard M

I agree with Richard.


Simon, would you recommend white Simonnot Godard pocket handkerchief? Ps. it looks now they offer only plain white in cotton/linen mix.


Do you worry much about white linen hanks getting too wrinkled, or do you just ignore the wrinkles?