A Consideration Of The Pocket Square.

We are still struggling to get the world back in ties.  It isn’t as hard as it was a year ago, two years ago, but the battle is far from over.  I got sent articles (plural) yesterday (and thank you) about working denim into your office portfolio.   I have done you the service of reprinting my article in its entirety on denim in the office here:

 

Zero. Point Zero. Reprinted with permission, copyright John Burton 2022

 

I would make this argument for the pocket square in the face of declining but still prevalent sartorial informality.  You don’t have to wear a tie to wear a pocket square.  Put in a different light, you might even consider the pocket square a gateway drug to a tie.

Do pocket squares translate in the real world?  Can I imagine a 20 something wearing a pocket square to lunch on a Saturday in town?  I kind of can.  If I had told you 18 years ago that in 9 years it would be cool to dress like a lumberjack to lunch on a Saturday in town you would have laughed.  But we all lived through it.

I have been knee deep in True Style (G. Bruce Boyer, 2015) the last few days, so I sought out Mr. Boyer’s thoughts on the pocket square, and found gold.  From the book:

“Problem is that one man’s ideas of coordination is another’s view of overplanned contrivance.  Psychologically, accessories that are perfectly matched up tend to leave either a distinction contrived, studied impression or the complete opposite:  the feeling that the man was dressed by his wife or a salesman.  On the former hand, we sense vanity and wasted time before the mirror, on the latter, a childlike inability to cope.  Vanity, of course, comes off worse, because it’s the striving that we see.  The overly fussy concern that reveals social anxiety, a lack of self-assurance, not knowing who we are or what role we intend to play.  These are psychologically deep waters, Watson, and ones any reasonable man will avoid.”

And this:

“Proper business dress in particular should aim for approachable dignity rather than flamboyance.”

Dignity.  I knew I came to the right place.

To try this out, I went to in two different directions.  First, from designer Kent Wang, the basic white linen pocket square, which you can check out and buy here.

No frills elegance.

 

And show in an application here:

Just enough, right?

I wore this in two ways, first, with a navy suit, as shown.  It felt right, not overdone, something I can pull off.  No one said anything, but I just felt that much more dressed.  I also wore it with a patterned sport coat.  That was a mistake.  It felt very contrived.  In that regard, pocket squares are like first kisses, never a good idea if they feel forced.

The second one I tried was a completely different story.  Also from Mr. Wang’s website, you can see it here.

Or here:

This is called the Carta Marina. That is some language for so-beautiful-it-is-a-shame-to-hide-it-in-your-pocket.

From the site, two applications:

How perfect is this? I am not at all sure it is pure Ivy, but it is perfect.

And here:

Too subdued. You don’t get a sense of it here.

The piece is art.  So much so that I struggled with concealing most of it.  But then it occurred to me that that is the point of it.  The message is tip-of-the-iceberg-if-you-like-what-you-see.  And that, folks is a nice message to send.  When I wore it, with a gray suit as suggested, I got more than a few compliments.  Ok, two were of the I-wish-more-men-dressed-nicely variety, but they still count.  One should not dress for compliments.  Ever.  On the other hand, feedback is how we learn.

How you fold the pocket square is as individual as how you tie your tie,  there are a few acceptable choices, and a few unacceptable ones.   But the takeaway is this,  if you are going to go to the trouble of expressing dignity through what you choose to wear, consider an accessory that is a rounding error compared to everything else you are buying, but serves as an exclamation point you have to squint a little to see.

JB

17 Comments on "A Consideration Of The Pocket Square."

  1. GBB is not the only menswear writer to have called matching a tie to a pocket square a cardinal sin.

    Alan Flusser and Hugo Jacomet have also warned about this tendency in menswear.

    Part of the problem lies with necktie manufacturers (cough, cough Ted Baker, Ferragamo, and Brioni) that sell gift sets that include matching neckties and pocket squares.

  2. I have found that wearing a white handkerchief (and a white shirt) with a suit just works. I agree that the white handkerchief worn with certain sport coats, similar to wearing a WOCBD under those same sport coats, often does not. To simplify, I merely delete the option when wearing those sport coats, or better yet, carry it in an inside pocket.

    White hankies need not be expensive. You can get a six pack of those and they last forever.

  3. As a 30-something whose sartorial self-actualization coincided with Mad Men’s zeitgeist moment, I still regularly wear a plain white linen pocket square in a Don Draperesque TV fold in every breast pocket I own. It feels, if not strictly Ivy, then certainly very mid-century (and thus, perhaps, Ivy-adjacent?)

    I had started to see that trend wane among my peers who also appreciate menswear in recent years (certainly, even more so in the pandemic!) I’d hoped that President Biden’s (near-daily, it seems) habit of wearing pocket squares (always white and in a peak fold) might help revive the trend. Sadly, it seems not to have.

    All that said, I do think you’re onto something here, John! I’ve also read a few reports that folks have rewatched the same inspiration for my pocket square habit while in quarantine. I, for one, long for the days of “dressed up date nights” at a cocktail bar with low lighting and high fashion, instead of so many take-out boxes on sofas in sweatpants.

    So, if some great resurgence in traditional menswear is coming as we re-emerge into more civilized society, then perhaps pocket squares could be the gateway drug that you’re suggesting. If so, (to extend the metaphor somewhat crudely) I’d say a white square in a TV fold is the very first bump.

    Either way, I intend to keep up the habit!

  4. Comment deleted as the result of a mutual agreement between two grown adults who came to a mutually approved conclusion and shall continue to get to know each other better in the years to come.

  5. I started wearing pocket squares right before the pandemic. I now wear one nearly every day. I don’t have a white on. I “fold” them nonchalantly and only have one that came with a tie (pink seersucker with matching bow tie).

  6. Charlottesville | March 9, 2022 at 12:02 pm | Reply

    I too am a pocket square booster. and I almost never go without one if wearing a tailored jacket. The TV fold in white cotton or linen with a suit or navy blazer is always appropriate, and a silk print can look great with a tweed or other sport coat. While, as Mr Boyer and other correctly warn, things can get out of hand and look contrived or foppish, a bit of pattern mixing can enliven one’s look without going over the top.

    Today I am wearing a tweed sport coat and corduroys, both from J. Press, with a dark paisley silk pocket square, a small-patterned wool challis tie from O’Connell’s, and an old-version OCBD from Brooks. The colors are harmonious, without looking like Garanimals (https://www.garanimals.com/). But if that seems like too much, the white TV fold is a restrained alternative.

    Ok, adding the Garanimals link is award-winning. – JB

  7. Old trick for short guys-Straight sharp pointed pocket square.

  8. Maybe the best point about pocket squares I’ve read: “…If you are going to go to the trouble of expressing dignity through what you choose to wear, consider an accessory that is a rounding error compared to everything else you are buying, but serves as an exclamation point you have to squint a little to see.”

    I don’t always wear pocket squares, but when I do, they’re white linen hankies. I’ve long appreciated more artistic examples in silk, but never saw the point in hiding something so lovely in a pocket all day, especially when it’s something you might use to blow your nose or block a sneeze’s trajectory.

    But the point you make about white linen pocket squares not really pairing as well with patterned jackets was illuminating — I’ll have to look for a few that might do the job with a couple of more boldly-patterned jackets I have. (I think white pocket squares still work quite well in jackets of a subtle pattern, however.)

    …Does the Internet need an acronym for white linen pocket squares like we have for Oxford cloth button downs? WLPS, anyone?

  9. Yes!!! I’ve enjoyed pocket squares for close to 20 years, with necktie and without, but never fretting about matching the two. Perish the thought!

    The last few years I have take the approach of the late Hardy Amies (?) and use my pocket squares are a non-matching counterpoint to the rest of my attire for the day. Of course, one can never go wrong with a white linen or cotton square, which I typically add when wearing a full suit, since that is already statement enough in 2022.

    Dean Wormer? Ah, yes. While Animal House is not necessarily still as hilarious as it was decades ago (we’ve since scraped bottom too many times socially speaking), his advice to Kent ‘Flounder’ Dorfman (as played by the young Stephen Furst) still holds.

    Certainly, and if you can, avoid going through life drunk and stupid.

    Kind Regards,

    H-U

  10. “taken.” Grrrr.

    Kind Regards,

    H-U

  11. Yah, forgot to mention the Dean Wormer “zero point zero” gag gave me a laugh. And I couldn’t agree more with its use (hypocrite though I am for wearing jeans and OCBDs — and always loafers — to work once in a while, though I *don’t* work in an office, so there’s that).

    @Ryan — As a fellow 30-something (though not for much longer), I also got on the pocket square bandwagon with Mad Men. I dabbled in the contemporary take on those ’60s suits, as well, though they were all way too slim, which is ironic considering the more relaxed-yet-tailored cuts of the actual era in question. Mad Men wasn’t what got me into all things sartorial, but it did help narrow things down for me and probably, in some indirect way, led me down the Ivy-esque path on which I first found this site.

  12. I’ve never been a pocket square guy until I bought masks in tartan patterns. I needed a place to stow them when outdoors, so…uh…yeah…I did that.

  13. For those young men still searching for the right path in life, Dean Wormer’s advice stands the test of time.

  14. NaturalShoulder | March 9, 2022 at 10:13 pm | Reply

    I deploy a pocket square when wearing a suit or tailored jacket. Similar to Charlottesville, I use white linen with a suit or navy blazer and will usually opt for something patterned in linen, silk, or cotton with an odd jacket. I find that with suits, the square adds an elegant finish and with odd jackets can add a bit of visual interest in the contrast of fabric and colors.

    There are usually very few or no other men wearing squares but I don’t give it a second thought. However, I don’t wear braces as frequently because I feel a bit more self-conscious. I am not sure I can rationalize the distinction.

  15. Charlottesville | March 10, 2022 at 10:09 am | Reply

    NaturalShoulder – We seem to be soulmates on the pocket square issue.

    Also like you, I usually wear a belt rather than braces, but happen to be wearing a striped pair today with a chalk stripe suit. However, if I keep my jacket on, it will be my little secret, and I wont need to worry about my trousers sliding down.

  16. Jim Bob Jump Back | March 11, 2022 at 1:35 pm | Reply

    Wear white only for all my sport coats & suits. No reason to candy it up & look like a fruitcake. Immersion starch with Argo Corn Starch & hand iron. Look Sharp – Be Sharp according to Gillette.

  17. For me, white linen or cotton square in a T.V.fold when wearing my grey flannel suit is a must. I do have other silk ones which I “Sort of” consider to work with my dark suits and play well with most ties. In my opinion, the pocket square should be something that is there enough to be noted as part of the package, but not attention getting or flamboyant in any way.

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