Everything You Need to Know About Pocket Squares Slip in a little extra style

We wouldn’t be the first to admit that the concept of a pocket square is a little weird. How on earth could a functionally useless piece of fabric nested inside a pocket be considered “style,” you ask? For some men, pocket squares are still, understandably, regarded as foreign territory. Often times, men who don’t don pocket squares either simply haven’t considered including them in their style arsenal yet (because of the whole lack-of-function thing), or, they feel that doing so would draw too much attention to their outfit. We’ll just start right out and say that yes, while there may be no definitive “utility” involved in wearing a pocket square, not everything needs to be about function! No, in this case, it’s all about style–and that’s exactly what adding a pocket square to your ensemble will do for you. It’s all fine and well that you’re wearing a nice blazer or suit jacket, but adding a pocket square will take your look one step further and help you stand out amidst a sea of fellow blazer wearers. It’s one more part of the sartorial puzzle through which you can express yourself and your personality on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that otherwise useless pocket real estate with an accessory that helps show the world who you are?

History

Pocket squares were predated by the handkerchief, which dates all the way back to ancient Egyptians, who used hankies for hygienic purposes like wiping off dirt or sweat from the face. Wealthy Greeks later adopted this practice, with Julius Caesar famously dropping a handkerchief to signal the start of games in the Coliseum. Audience members at the games would wave small handkerchiefs made of silk or linen as an alternative to applauding or cheering.

Handkerchiefs later evolved into tokens of affection from women. In the Middle Ages, knights would wear handkerchiefs during tournaments as a symbol of a lady’s favor or bidding of good luck. By the Renaissance era, in Europe, if a woman was attracted to a man, she would declare her attraction by drawing her handkerchief across her cheek (or through her hands if she wanted nothing to do with him).
Often regarded as the true “inventor” of the pocket square, King Richard II of England popularized handkerchiefs in 1390. He was known to have kept a handkerchief on his person at all times, and this practice was quickly adopted by other nobles, and eventually (a few centuries later), lower classes caught on as well. By the 17th century, almost everyone in western Europe sported a handkerchief in their trouser pockets. However, trouser pockets were notoriously dirty (as they were often filled with money and spare change), and eventually, men moved their handkerchiefs to the breast pocket, slowly transforming the cloth from a utilitarian tool to a fashion statement over time. By the 1900s, fashionable men everywhere could be seen wearing pocket squares made of linen, cotton, or silk in their breast pockets. In the 1920s, newly invented folding techniques transformed the handkerchief into a full-fledged accessory. In an interesting turn of events, men began to pay distinct attention to their pocket squares, opting to keep separate handkerchiefs in their trousers for actual use. By WWII, however, the idea of handkerchiefs fell out of style for sanitary reasons, and tissue companies were born. From that point on, the pocket square was officially a fashion statement and only a fashion statement.

The Comeback

Pocket squares were immensely popular throughout the 20th century. But, toward the end of the century, as jeans, t-shirts, and business casual replaced suits in everyday attire, pocket squares seemed to all but disappear, making guest appearances only at the most formal of events (as well as at weddings and the occasional prom).
However, the tides have changed in recent years. We assume that, since you’re reading this article, you have taken at least a fraction of interest in bettering your appearance. Today, thanks to a resurgence of interest in menswear (read: thanks to folks like you), the pocket square has returned full-force. Men everywhere are taking note of their appearance once more, making little, seemingly insignificant choices–like the cloth poking out of one’s pocket–have that much more of an impact. And, with a wider variety of materials, textures, colors, and folding techniques (see below) than ever before, there has never been a better time to incorporate this accessory into your arsenal.

10 Ways to Fold

The Classic

Classic Fold

 

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square in half once.
  3. Fold up from the bottom to form a finished rectangle.
  4. Fold lengthwise one more time to match the width of your pocket. Tuck the folded square into your jacket pocket with the edges facing up. It is not essential to keep the edges symmetrical. In fact, allowing them to layer and fall naturally adds to the casual nature of this fold. This fold works exceptionally well with pocket squares that have differently-colored lined (or hand-rolled) edges.

The Square (Presidential)

how to fold a pocket square the presidential

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square in half once.
  3. Fold in half again.
  4. Fold the square in half one more time, creating a slim rectangle. Tuck the lower edge (you may need to fold it over a little to fit your pocket) into your jacket pocket, leaving only the folded edge visible at the top. 

One-Point

One Point Fold

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the opposite corner.
  3. Fold one corner in and across about two-thirds of the way.
  4. Repeat step three with the remaining corner. You will want to fold the protruding flap back in and adjust the bottom of the folded pocket square as needed to fit in your jacket pocket so that the only part visible is the point.

Two-Point

Two Point Fold

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the opposite corner. You will want to angle the fold slightly off-center so that one corner will hit just to the left of the other. The corners should be offset–both points visible.
  3. Fold one corner in and across about two-thirds of the way.
  4. Repeat step three with the remaining corner. You will want to fold the protruding flap back in and adjust the bottom of the folded pocket square as needed to fit in your jacket pocket so that the only section visible is the two points.

Three-Point

Three Point Fold

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the opposite corner. You will want to angle the fold slightly off-center so that one corner will hit just to the left of the other. The corners should be offset–both points visible.
  3. Fold the corner on the same side as the offset point you made in step two up and across, forming the third point.
  4. Fold the remaining corner across and fold/adjust as needed to create a shape that fits in your jacket pocket. Tuck into your pocket so that the only part visible is the three points. Make the points as close or as wide as you like, just make sure they’re pointing upward.

Four-Point

Four Point Fold

  1. Begin with pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the opposite corner. You will want to angle the fold slightly off-center, so that one corner will hit just to the right of the other. The corners should be offset–both points visible.
  3. Fold the bottom left corner diagonally up and across, aligning the point to the right of the first two points. All three points should line up neatly and be as evenly spaced as possible.
  4. Repeat with the bottom right corner, folding it up diagonally and across. This point should align to the left of all the points. Once again, check for alignment and even spacing of all the points. Now, depending on how you’ve fared on the first four steps, your pocket square might be able to fit in your pocket as-is. If not, fold the outside edges inward, tucking them in below the four points. Tuck the base of your fold into your jacket pocket so only the four points are visible.

The Puff

Puff Fold

  1. Begin with the pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Pinch the pocket square at its center and lift, letting the edges and corners hang down.
  3. Form a circle with your thumb and pointer finger and pull the pinched point in and through about halfway. Tug gently on the hanging edges with your other hand, pulling the pocket square into a loose “puffed” shape. Gently begin bringing the hanging corners up with your other hand, kind of like peeling a banana in reverse. 
  4. Once all the corners have been folded up, arrange them until the square is short enough to fit snugly in your jacket pocket with only the “puff” showing. Don’t worry about the puff having small wrinkles and imperfections–that’s part of the charm of this particular fold.

The Winged Puff

Winged Puff Fold

  1. Begin with the pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the other. Aim the point of the triangle upward (away from yourself) when laid flat.
  3. Fold the corners in and up, bringing them to meet the top point of the original triangle. The resulting shape should be a diamond. Tug the bottom point (the one pointing toward you) a tiny bit loose so that there is a slight gap between folds. This corner is the one that will remain visible.
  4. Turn your folded square around so that the “winged” corner is facing up. Fold the three other corners in toward the center. The resulting shape should look like an envelope, and there should be a visible slit down the center of the winged peak. Tuck the square portion of the folded pocket square into your pocket, so that only the pointed peak is visible. Tease the wings of the peak a little to make the final shape a little imperfect.

The Crown

Crown Fold

  1. Begin with the pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Pinch the pocket square at its center and lift, letting the edges and corners hang down.
  3. Form a circle with your thumb and pointer finger and pull the pinched point in and through about halfway.
  4. Tug gently on the hanging edges with your other hand, pulling the pocket square into a loose “puffed” shape. Gently begin bringing the hanging corners up with your other hand, kind of like peeling a banana in reverse. Unlike the Puff Fold, you’ll want to bring the corners up higher so that they also show above your jacket pocket. Tuck the folded pocket square into your pocket so that both the puff and the points are showing. You can either center the puff with the points in front or arrange it so the points fall to one side and the puff sits on the other (as shown). It’s up to you, just be sure not to make this fold too perfect or symmetrical. It works best when it looks a little misshapen.

The Scallop

Scallop Fold

  1. Begin with the pocket square laid flat and unfolded.
  2. Fold the square diagonally down the middle, bringing one corner to meet the other.
  3. Fold the triangle in half again, bringing the two corners at either end of the first fold together.
  4. Gently curl one of the doubled corners in and downward (don’t fold or crease it! You want to retain a rounded shape). Repeat this process for the other corner, laying this one over the first one. The result should be a curved, funnel-like shape.
  5. Tuck the triangular point down into your pocket (you may need to fold the sides in a little to fit your pocket–adjust as needed). Only the uppermost curved area you just created should show above your pocket.

Things to Keep in Mind

Feature

Now that you know some of the essential folds, you should also know a few basic pocket square rules. Here are the most important things to keep in mind: 

  1. Your pocket square should not match your tieRather, it should complement a color found on your tie, or contrast your tie altogether.
  2. If you’re not wearing a tie, the same rule still applies. Either complement your other accessories with the color of your pocket square or go for the contrast. In sum, just never match.
  3. No matter which fold you choose, make sure that the resulting look doesn’t get bulky–you want to avoid pocket bulge. Your jacket pocket should still sit relatively flat against your jacket. Most of these folds are designed in such a way that this problem doesn’t arise, but if you have a particularly thick pocket square (or a smaller-than-average pocket), just keep on experimenting with folds until you find one that works.
  4. Don’t be afraid to wear a pocket square everywhere! If you’re serious about style, consider wearing a pocket square for every social situation. Wear a square and tie to all formal affairs, and opt for a blazer and square (sans tie) for your more casual outings.
  5. Your fold should match your mood first, and the event you are attending second. Sure, some folds are more formal than others, but honestly, a pocket square is a dressy accessory by nature, no matter how you scrunch it up. Feeling confident and daring? Rock a Four-Point Fold to that networking event you’re attending. Wanting to not draw attention to yourself at your high school reunion? The Classic Fold will do just fine.

Pocket squares are little pieces of fabric that speak volumes. Wearing one demonstrates to the world that you are a man with confidence, that you are well-versed in matters of personal style, and that, above all else, you care about the details. A little pop of color or pattern nestled inside your jacket pocket is a sign of sophistication, and also serves as an instant improvement to any outfit you wear. So reach for a square and start experimenting with colors, patterns, and folds until you find something that resonates with you.