Before disposable tissues were around, people favored handkerchiefs for everyday use. Already a timeless tool for blowing your nose, they were also popular for filtering out germs and “bad air” during the times of bubonic plague in Europe. The need for handkerchiefs inherently caused them to become fashionable and symbols of status, being intricately embroidered or adorned with jewels. By the 13th century, handkerchiefs had become so commonplace in Britain that they became known as the “Humble Hanky.”
However, in the early 1900s Kleenex became the first direct competitor of the handkerchief, offering a disposable option that they claimed would be more sanitary. “Don’t carry a cold in your pocket” was the major headline from a 1930s Kleenex ad that attacked the handkerchief industry and society’s view of handkerchief culture. But when used properly, reusable handkerchiefs are more than effective for sanitary everyday use. Here’s the etiquette you need to know to keep your reusable handkerchief clean and sanitary:
- Start with a clean hanky everyday. If you reuse it without washing it, you’re carrying around germs with you like a mobile reserve. Keep a set of fresh handkerchiefs folded and ready to go, so you can grab a new one daily throughout the week. After washing your handkerchiefs, fold and press into a square.
- After using your handkerchief, don’t just ball it up and stuff it back into your pocket. Fold it neatly so any germs you may have just deposited will be folded into the middle and away from where your hands can reach.
- It’s a polite gesture to offer your fresh handkerchief to someone who may need a tissue, if and only if it is unused. Don’t ask for it to be returned; consider it a gift to them. This is one of the beautiful things that can happen with a handkerchief and can’t with a tissue.
- Always carry two handkerchiefs; a pocket square for show, and a handkerchief to blow your nose. We call it “one for blow, one for show.” Never put a used handkerchief back into your shirt pocket.
Friends don’t let friends spread germs. So if you’re thinking about gifting a handkerchief to someone you love, be sure to share these tips with them to keep them proper and healthy.
Written by: Nick Marchese (Visual Merchandiser at Topdrawer)