David Lyle explains the Pocket Handkerchief


My dear friend David Lyle is a Sartorialist, that is to say he has an interest in matters of or relating to the tailoring of clothing.

He is also a veteran television executive whose career spans 35 years across more than 20 countries, with a proven track record developing factual and unscripted multiplatform/multiwindow content both domestically – he started Getaway – and globally. He has just moved on from his role as CEO of the National Geographic Channels US with responsibility for global programming. Back briefly for a bit of sun at his home in Palm Beach, he has kindly agreed to explain the pocket handkerchief.


Mothers always urged the wearing of clean underwear….just in case. Along with that went a a clean handkerchief to blow the nose, clean up spills etc. However, fathers had a role in handkerchief lore. They urged the pocket handkerchief on their sons.  Now while it can be used for cleaning glasses and is mighty impressive if offered to a damsel in distress, its real role is for show, extravagance to enliven the formal jacket. The pocket hank has gone in and out of fashion. Sadly it is popular, almost commonplace, now but in a few years one could be the only male for miles sporting a spotted pocket square. Different types of pocket plumage and different folds allow for variations on the theme.

There is the straight edged hank – very austere and buttoned down. This is the Mad Men look of the knife edge creased fifties. Ideal with tie clasps and increasingly seen with lapel dinner suits.

What could be better than a white pocket hank? A creme one or more correctly an old silk one that goes that peculiar colour of old silk. People can feel the incredible smoothness from meters away just by looking at it. The amount you let it blouson from the pocket depends on the formality of the occasion and whether you have come out yet.

There is a warning that should be regarded as an absolute. Ties and hanks should never be identical. That is too sad. But they can sort of match in colour even if they juxtapose shapes. I fancy the spotted hank with the checked shirt. Matching hanks to socks requires an attention to detail that I am yet to master.

There is the multi point look which requires an origami skill in folding to get three, four or five points sticking out like little opera house sails. In the fifties and early sixties I remember dry cleaned jackets coming back with impressive white points in the breast pocket. They seemed too symmetrical to be true and of course they were. They were bits of cotton stapled to a convenient piece of cardboard. They were the equivalent of the clip on bow tie and I shudder to think of the shame if you were ever found out to be a fakie at the hankie or bad at the breast pocket.


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