The concept of the pocket square goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Wealthy Greeks carried around perfumed hankies as early as 500 B.C. English and French noblemen carried perfumed and embroidered hankies in order to cover their noses from the stench of the streets and other people.
However, pocket squares as a fashion accessory for formal as well as casual attire have only been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Especially popular in the 1920s, men used to wear a pocket square in combination with a suit, a vest, and the era’s typical fedora hat.
Initially pocket squares came from the linen handkerchiefs used for personal hygiene. Handkerchiefs have been used for over 600 years. It is said that the handkerchief was invented by Richard II of England (1367-1400) “as a little piece of cloth for the lord king to wide and clean his nose”. The upper class in London used it to cover their noses when walking among the normal citizens. Initially only the upper class adopted the use of a linen hankerchief, but by the 17th century the handkerchief was as quite common among all classes throughout western Europe.
Originally handkerchiefs were placed in the trousers’ pockets since it was seen as un-clean to show a “used” hankerchief in the visible breast pocket of a man’s jacket. As 2 piece suits came into fashion in the 19th century, many men started to place their clean pocket square into the breast pocket of their jacket to protect it from dirt and other objects, such as coins, in their trousers’ pockets. After use the pocket square would move from the breast pocket to the trousers’ pockets.
The look of the pocket square in the breast pocket became more popular, especially after specific folding techinques came into use. By the 1920s the pocket square had become more of a fashion accessory than having any other purpose. Often, men had a poacket square in their breast pocket, and another hankerchief in their trousers meant for wiping their hands or cleaning their nose.
Later on, during the 40s and 50s the linen handkerchiefs were viewed us unhygenic. The kleenex company, founded in 1924, was the first company to make disposable handkerchiefs. As a result, the linen hankershief was replaced, and only used as a fashion accessory in form of a pocket square. Pocket squares are still today a very fashionable piece of accessory for any formal, casual or business attire.