Men's Fashion

It’s hip to wear squares

Thanks to the Don Draper effect, the pocket square is cool again. The keys to the look are the right fold and a knockout design. Jonathan Futrell has the techniques and the selection.

May 06 2010
Jonathan Futrell

Mad Men’s iconic Don Draper and that defining flash of silk on his jacket – as white as his teeth and straight as his jaw – has at a stroke reclaimed from politicians and antiques dealers that most dashing element of a man’s wardrobe: the pocket square.

The dapper creative director on the cult TV show would look like any other high-ranking executive were it not for that glimpse of white silk – there for no other reason than effect. A useless, but essential, accessory, it’s not there to blow his nose on, but to scream that he cares.

The designers at Ermenegildo Zegna are among Draper’s many admirers. Its models this year boasted familiar flashes of white silk poking out of their breast pockets. In all, there were six subtly different variations of plain white (£50-£69) and a raft of bolder block-colour pocket squares in pink, burgundy and blue. It’s the same story over at Canali: old-school, minimalist cool (from £90).

In fact, all the key fashion players make pocket squares, and all – including Turnbull & Asser, that shrine to the varied and wondrous masculine manifestations of silk – report an upsurge in sales. “A couple of years ago younger men started pairing sports jackets with jeans,” says store manager Michael Searle. “Now we’re finding they’re teaming those with a combination of pocket squares.” Paisleys (from £45) and polka dots (from £40), in any one of dozens of permutations, remain the store’s consistent bestsellers.

Out of an impressive range of colourways and patterns (from £75), paisleys hold sway at Ralph Lauren too, with polka dots running a close second. The label also reports a growth in sales, with buyers increasingly employing them to refresh favourite suits. There’s nothing like a blaze of purple paisley silk to invigorate a work suit for the evening.

Meanwhile, plain block colours – purple, a gorgeous deep yellow and ivory – in woven silk (£25) are the bedrock of a smart and effectively low-key range at shirtmaker Thomas Pink.

They don’t have to be silk. Cotton pocket squares, such as those at Hackett, where the classic blue and white Bengal stripe is a consistent favourite (£18), are perfect for days out of town. They also have the added advantage of being up to a good old blow should the pollen count get too much. Hackett has 27 styles in all, among them a cotton/linen blend (£18). Dunhill also uses cotton for an unusual and rather charming “wing mirror” print (£20) in recognition of the brand’s motoring heritage.

In a serendipitous turn of events, pocket squares achieved their status as a male accessory on the invention of the lowly Kleenex tissue in 1924. Until then, they were entirely functional. In fact, the pocket handkerchief’s history is disputed, but it has been around for centuries. It is thought to have started out in Persia as a “rumal”, a cloth to wipe the head, and acquired a reputation as the must-have accessory among Venetian women. Its fate was sealed when Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI deemed le couvre-chef, a piece of fabric formerly worn on the head, to be just the ticket for screening out nasty odours. Louis furthermore decreed the cloth’s lengths and widths should be the same. Et voilà – the pocket square.

There are no hard and fast rules as to where and when to wear one, although most pundits agree that a chap might be pushing his luck to wear a pocket square to a job interview since he risks “out-styling” his potential employer.

The big decision is how to fold it. Of the four accepted ways, Draper opts for the “square”, “straight fold” or “TV”. The pocket square is folded in half vertically and the bottom then folded up to within a short distance from the top. Turn it over and slip into place, with a centimetre or so showing. The effect is unobtrusive and icily sharp.

To create the “one-point”, “one corner” or “triangle”, fold the square in half vertically and from bottom to top creating a quarter-size square. Reposition as a diamond, with open edges facing up. Fold left and right points to the centre. Flip up the bottom point, turn over and place in the pocket. It’s tidy, but risks appearing a tad sad if the tip of the triangle droops.

For my favoured “four point” or “multipoint”, lay the square flat as a diamond. Bring the bottom point up to just left of the apex, creating an out-of-kilter pyramid. Fold left and right points to either side of two apexes. Fold in sides, flip up the bottom, flip over and position.

Each look requires careful folding to achieve the right amount of “show”, perhaps explaining why many men favour the “puff”. With the square flat, pinch the middle and pick it up with the hanging points facing down. Turn the hanging points up and cinch about a third of the way down from the top and arrange in the pocket. It may look like a piece of stolen lingerie yet the “puff” effect is quick and easy to achieve and maintain.

Director James Cameron wore his puff, in Avatar blue, to the Oscars, and Searle observes that many of his customers prefer this arrangement – “not overblown, like there is a mini explosion in the breast pocket, but plumped up a little, just over the top. But even that varies in this part of London, where we have a lot of galleries and many men wear their pocket squares flamboyantly.”

Combining the puff’s flamboyance with true designer innovation, Nicole Farhi has come up with the Peat Corduroy Jacket (£370). It’s a hybrid garment with a bright bronze diamond-check lining and pocket liner, the latter intended to be puffed up and worn outside the pocket. Imagine that. You could wear it out of sight during your office day and then puff it up en route to your drinks date. Doubtless Mr Draper would approve.

See also

Pocket Squares