My grandfather carried a handkerchief my entire life. It was probably the most-used item he carried other than his wallet. Handkerchiefs aren’t anything new to the world. They can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt and they are seen in statues dating as far back as 1000 BC in China. There are Chinese statues that depict individuals holding a square of cloth in their hands which appears to be a handkerchief. In Victorian times, Queen Elizabeth was known to embroider handkerchiefs to explain to staff what she needed them to do without ever speaking to them. Also, they were used for flirting. You read that right - flirting. At a grand dinner, you may receive a handkerchief from a man or woman at the table with a personal note of desire on it.
During the Great Depression, most people had very little money so they would just buy a handkerchief to make an outfit feel new and different. It was during this time that a handkerchief in America went from utilitarian to fashion accessory. Many great designers took to this accessory after WWII and started making them part of fashion. They tied hankies off of a bag, wrists, or a model’s neck. From then on, handkerchiefs were part of the everyday man or woman’s wardrobe. They became such a fashion that there was a saying around it, “Carry two handkerchiefs: one for show and one to blow”. Many would have one handkerchief fashioned in their shirt pocket for looks and the other was stored in a pants pocket for everyday use. The shirt pocket handkerchief would later be called the pocket square.
Handkerchiefs were a staple in everyone’s lives until the invention of the Kleenex in 1924. It took a while for handkerchiefs to lose their status in the US, but in 1954 a little book came out for children that was titled, “Little Lulu and Her Magic Tricks”. The book came with a small package of Kleenex and actually taught kids and adults how to make and do things with Kleenex tissues. They sold over 2.5 million copies of this book. Little Lulu was the mascot for Kleenex from 1952 to 1965. She was a very popular comic strip and book character, which influenced a new generation of adults and children that saw Kleenex as the answer, not the handkerchief. This destroyed the idea of “one for show and one to blow.” By the end of the 1960s the pocket square and the handkerchief lost popularity due to Kleenex.
The handkerchief and the pocket square then left mainstream American culture until it resurfaced in the early 2000s. Its comeback is primarily due to TV shows, fashion, and societal awareness of the impact waste is having on the environment. In 2020, you can see more people carrying and using a handkerchief than ever before. They have so many uses in your everyday life. You can use them as a hand towel, face mask, placemat, a fashion statement, coaster, and much more. There are more styles and colors than ever before and you will easily be able to find a print or pattern that fits your personality or mood.