Pocket Square vs. Handkerchief: What's the Difference?

We’ll start this article by lobbing an easy question at you: Are pocket squares and handkerchiefs the same thing?

The answer, of course, is no—otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.

Even the most noted of sartorial studs may stumble upon this wringer now and again. So what really makes them different from each other? Rare Fold did the investigation for you. Read on to find out the four key features that make pocket squares and handkerchiefs uniquely different.

Purpose 

The most important distinction between a handkerchief and pocket square is the cloth’s function. There’s a common saying—one’s for showing, one’s for blowing—that may help you remember each piece of fabric’s main purpose. All the other characteristics stem from this one difference.

Pocket Square: You might guess that a pocket square is really just for show. However, don’t dismiss the square’s importance. Its main purpose, of course, is to take your outfit (whether that’s a full suit or just a sports coat) from sorry to stylish in a matter of seconds. A pocket square has the ability to transform your overall look to make it more formal or add personality.

Handkerchief: Most handkerchiefs you come across are pretty plain, and that’s because they don’t have any real aesthetic purpose. Their function is purely practical; they’re for blowing, after all. Handkerchiefs and meant to be used for hygienic purposes, like blowing your nose or wiping sweat from your face.

Fabric

Staring at a piece of cloth won’t exactly tell you its purpose. So the easiest way to find out whether you’re dealing with a pocket square or handkerchief is to look at its fabric.

Pocket Square: If you’re holding a piece of silk, satin, or even linen, you are most likely holding a pocket square. They can come in all types of fabric, but material that has sheen to it—like silk—is typically most popular. Usually the pocket square material is chosen for its looks and durability, with softer material being favored since it makes certain folds easier to pull off.

Handkerchief: Handkerchiefs can be made from a variety of fabrics as well, but you’ll generally find them to be made of cotton or a cotton blend. Based on their intended use, the ideal handkerchief is made from a sturdy, soft, and absorbent material. If it’s made with the right fabric, it’ll get softer with washes over time, making for a more pleasant experience.

Placement

Where you keep your pocket square or handkerchief plays directly into their functions.

Pocket Square: They’re supposed to be shown off, so pocket squares are always prominently displayed in your jacket’s breast pocket with a portion of the fabric showing.

Handkerchief: On the other hand (pun intended), handkerchiefs are meant to be concealed. Which is why they’re carried in your pants pocket or inner jacket pocket. You’ll take it out, use it to blow your nose or wipe your face, fold it up, then put it away—and out of sight.

Size

Size can vary from one pocket square to the next and one handkerchief to the next, but both are almost always square in shape.

Pocket Square: Pocket squares are typically between 13 and 18 square inches. They’re usually smaller than a handkerchief to avoid any bulk when displayed in your jacket breast pocket.

 Handkerchief: Since a handkerchief is kept in your inner jacket or pants pocket, they can be larger than a pocket square without any issue. You’ll also find them to be made with a thicker fabric, which makes them more absorbent. 

Design

When you once again consider their purposes, you can probably theorize how the design aesthetic of a pocket square and handkerchief may differ.

Pocket Square: More often than not, a pocket square’s design will consist of loud, bold, bright colors and patterns. They’re a way to express your personality, whether that means you’re ready to Flamingle or would rather be sitting under a Cabana. Choose your pocket square design to stand out, complement your style, and be shown off. 

Handkerchief: Handkerchiefs can come in a variety of designs as well, but typically are very plain and unremarkable.

Now that you know the difference between the two, you can start your collection of pocket squares by visiting our online shop now.