Pocket Square Rules
In short, your pocket square shares the same visual plane as your tie and should coordinate with it as such. This is very important in terms of colour but you do have more room to manoeuvre in terms of patterns.
You may have noticed that we used the word “coordinate’ as opposed “match.” This brings us to a number of rules, which can help you select the right pocket square of which the first is golden:
- Avoid matching your pocket square colour with your tie.
- Use secondary colour accents for patterned pocket squares.
- Avoid an overuse of patterns.
- Use the right fold for the occasion.
- White pocket squares can go with any outfit.
Pocket Square Rules Explained
Indeed, pocket squares are subject to one of the only truly unbreakable rules in all of menswear in that it should never perfectly match the tie. If you do, it has a tendency to look too studied and fussy as well as lacking in creativity. Most importantly, it has the tendency to distract the viewer’s eye across your chest. Instead, you want something that draws them upwards to your face.
An exception for this is highly-patterned pocket squares. On this occasion, you can use your tie or shirt as a secondary colour to match a subtle accent in the pattern. This will help bring the two together.
Similarly, try to avoid an overuse of patterns. For instance, if you opt for both a tie and a pocket square in paisley or similar, the result can appear too busy. Instead, try to find a jacket, tie, and pocket square combination where one is a flat, block colour as a foundation for the other two.
We list a range of different styles in our guide to pocket square folds. While the basic TV fold is easily the most versatile, there are sometimes better options for certain occasions. Conversely, few of these options offer the same level of flexibility. Therefore, try to opt for a fold that is best suited for the occasion. We explain these in detail in the aforementioned guide.
Finally, we mentioned that white pocket squares can go with any outfit. Needless to say, there are some exceptions. However, a white cotton pocket square is extremely versatile and a great option if you’re unsure on what to use. Whatever the occasion or time of day, a white pocket square with a classic fold works wonders and completes your look.
From an etiquette perspective, simply wearing a pocket square is (nearly) enough. Drinks spill and need to be tended to quickly. People cry at weddings and funerals and may not have tissues handy.
Alternatively, you may find yourself in a vicious knife fight and have some blood to clean up. Similarly, you might need to wipe the fingerprints from the aforementioned knife afterwards. You know, typical stuff.
To facilitate any of the above, the best thing you can do is abide by the “one for blowing, one for showing” rule. Yes, this means that you should carry two on you.
The one for show lives in the breast pocket. Meanwhile, the one for functional use can be kept in a rear trouser pocket or inside coat pocket.
The square you wear for show can be as ornate or plain as you like, made from any material and in any pattern. As for the functional one, opt for cotton. You don’t need to ruin your beautiful silk kerchiefs just because you have a case of the sniffles.
Guidelines For Offering A Handkerchief
Firstly, ensure that your handkerchief is clean and neatly ironed. After all, would you accept being offered a scruffy ball of cotton from a stranger?
Additionally, you might not want to invest too heavily in a functional cotton handkerchief or at least be mindful that you might be permanently separated from it.
For instance, it might get too dirty if used in an emergency. Alternatively, you might not get it back if you lend it to someone.
On that note, we would also recommend that you refrain from asking for it back too. Given that it’s a polite gesture to help someone in need with a handkerchief, it would be a contradiction to insist on it being returned soon afterwards.
If they do offer it back, use your own judgement whether to accept it or not. They might not have actually finished using it but are just polite and self-conscious of the fact that they have your handkerchief. If this is the case, you can jokingly reassure them by pointing to your breast pocket to say that you have a spare one!
Alternatively, simply suggest that they return it at a later date. If you know them, it can be next time you meet. Otherwise, you can provide your contact details so they can mail it to you. Hopefully, they’ll launder it first!
What Pocket Square Fabric To Wear With Your Suit
As we discussed in the section on pocket square rules, the secret to successfully wearing a pocket square is to create just the right level of contrast in your outfit. The objective is to add a touch of flair or a pop of colour for optimal visual interest.
Therefore, you should avoid opting for a pocket square that blends in too much with your suit. Meanwhile, your choice of pocket square should be restrained just enough so that it’s not the full centre of attention either.
In our guide to the best ones, the main fabrics are essentially silk or cotton. Although polyester, microfibre, and linen are also possible options, the former tend to have a very similar handfeel to silk. Similarly, linen is not too dissimilar to cotton. While there are other fabrics like wool, which is usually similar in appearance to tweed, it’s still rather rare.
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to contrast the textures of your pocket square and your suit. Therefore, rough, woollen suits like tweed work best with silk pocket squares. Meanwhile, fine worsted wool suits tend to pair well with cotton.
In short, the finer the suit, the rougher the pocket square!
Of course, there are exceptions to most generalities. For instance, you might be seeking to have heavily contrasted jacket and pocket square colours. In that case, you might prefer to stick to the same textures to curb the level of contrast as we explained earlier.
Best Pocket Square Coordinations
In this section of our guide, we’ll be expanding on the basic rules above by detailing how to wear and coordinate your pocket square with different garments.
Coordinating A Pocket Square With A Tie
As we mentioned above, coordinating your handkerchief with a necktie is basically Style 101. As you don’t want to have them match exactly, keep complementary colors in mind.
For instance, the tie and pocket square above work well thanks to the use of accents. While both have a very similar shade of green, the pocket square features a different pattern, which prevents them from matching.
Pocket Squares With Braces Or Suspenders
Braces share the same visual plane as the tie, which means they share the same visual plane as your pocket square, too. However, there is significantly more flexibility on this occasion.
For instance, the braces may not always be seen at the same time as the pocket square as you’ll be likely covering it with a jacket. However, you may reach into a pocket at reveal a glimmer of your braces so it’s worth matching them if possible.
Generally, solid squares tend to go well with patterned braces, and vice-versa. Most classic braces will usually feature two colours as long, solid stripes. One of these colours can happily match your pocket square.
Yet, if the braces are a solid colour, this is probably best avoided for the same reason as how it matches your tie.
Indeed, you can use the same rules between your tie, braces, and pocket square as you would with just the tie and pocket square lone. This means some creativity as three garments are now in the equation but you will certainly find a way to have just the right level of contrast.
How To Match A Pocket Square With A Suit & No Tie
The classic suit-and-tie combination is subject to the tie-and-square coordination rules that we have detailed above. However, if you’re opting for a more business casual look without a tie, this does change things.
Indeed, wearing a suit sans tie does open things up significantly and offers you a lot of flexibility to express yourself.
For instance, you could choose to coordinate your pocket square with with your shirt, your socks, or any other accessories you’re wearing. Alternatively, you don’t even have to coordinate at all and just have fun!
What Pocket Square To Wear With A Tuxedo
Purists may argue that you shouldn’t wear a pocket square at all with a tuxedo. However, despite our tendency to follow the rules, we’re a little liberal here.
If you do wish to wear a pocket square with a tux, it’s quite easy! In all cases, keep it white and ideally silk but cotton is fine too, and don’t go overboard on the fold. We suggest a plain TV fold to not draw too much attention.
Pocket Squares With A Sport Coat
Sport coats are often more boldly patterned than suit jackets, and you should feel empowered to coordinate with the colours and patterns in the coat. Note that the blue in the pocket square above picks up on the blue check of the jacket and the blue of the waistcoat.
In keeping with the mantra we detailed above, the finer the jacket, the rougher the pocket square. As sport coats are often made from heavy tweed, you can opt for a silk pocket square for the optimal level of contrast.
Wearing A Pocket Square With A Boutonnière
Boutonnières have seen a resurgence in popularity over the past few years, and we’re delighted about this. However, technically speaking, older guidelines dictate you should avoid wearing both a boutonnière and a pocket square together.
Today, we’re a lot more liberal and we have been known to wear both together. Indeed, a boutonnière can be worn as a stand-in for pocket square. Nevertheless, you can use your own judgement here. As long as the result produces a balanced look, feel free to wear both together.
For instance, we’re wearing a small and understated boutonnière from Dapper Lapel above. Given its small size, it doesn’t feel overbearing when paired with even a busy pocket square. Nevertheless, bear in mind that the tie is also absent here, which can help.
The key here is to maximise your colour contrast between hanky and boutonnière while maintaining some continuity. This is because they both reside on the left side of the jacket, and you want to avoid things looking too similar yet still retain a sense of coordination.
Matching Your Pocket Square With A Shirt
You don’t necessarily have to match the pocket square with your tie. Instead, you can use the shirt as your secondary colour for accenting. Thankfully, this is easy, as you just follow the guidelines about colour and pattern listed above.
Keeping it simple and riffing off of a combination pictured above, here we have a blue-and-white checked shirt paired with a blue-and-white handkerchief. Wearing all this with a blue jacket creates continuity, while opting for a complementary colour in the lapel pin creates contrast and visual interest.
Coordinating A Pocket Square With A Bow Tie
The rules for coordinating bow ties with pocket squares is the same as it is for neckties. You don’t have to concern yourself with the bow tie’s shape or anything of that nature just colour and pattern.
With A Lapel Pin
Lapel pins are similar to boutonnières insofar as they’re worn on the left lapel and are therefore on the same side of the jacket as a pocket square. If there’s any colour in your lapel pin (and there sometime’s isn’t much to speak of, as some are simply precious metals), try to contrast your handkerchief with it significantly.
With A Vest
Waistcoats are relatively uncharted territory as it relates to your pocket square. If you’re wearing an odd vest with a jacket over it, you can simply treat it as if it were a shirt when coordinating your handkerchief with it.
But, what if you’re just wearing a vest? Can you wear a pocket square too?
We say yes, if your waistcoat is single-breasted with a four-pocket front. The top left pocket can take the place of a jacket’s breast pocket, allowing you to throw a hanky in there for some extra panache.
A great rule of thumb: pocket squares that pick up on more than one piece’s colours or patterns while acting as a “bridge” between them almost always make for smart combinations.
Wearing A Pocket Square For Specific Occasions
Wearing a pocket square will always enhance a gentleman’s attire, but it’s important to know how to wear one depending on your audience. For example, the colour and fabric of your pocket square, as well as the type of fold, for a summer wedding will be far different from the one you’d wear to a funeral.
Pocket Squares With A Tuxedo
We did touch on this above but there’s no harm in reiterating it. As we mentioned, pocket squares with tuxedos are optional and even sometimes regarded as too much for the dress code.
However, we’re personally fine with them. Overall, tuxedos generally call for solid white pocket squares with inconspicuous folds like the TV fold or a small puff fold.
If you’re headed to a more lax black tie event (perhaps in someone’s home or at a social club), you can branch out from this, but keep the colours to black and white.
Pocket Squares For Prom
If you’re headed to the prom, you’re bound by the black tie dress code mentioned above. As such, you should stick with a white pocket square rather than some flashy colours. Nevertheless, feel free to fold it however you please.
Wearing Pocket Squares To A Wedding
Weddings give you a lot of flexibility with regard to your handkerchief. It’s a festive occasion and your pocket square can reflect that festive spirit. This applies to grooms, best men, groomsmen, fathers of the bride and groom, and guests.
If it’s a more formal wedding, a muted pocket square with an inconspicuous fold will work. On the other hand, if the wedding is more casual, you can let some bright colours out and use a more ornate fold for added fun.
Pocket Squares To A Funeral
You can wear either plain white or white trimmed with black or dark blue to a funeral. The idea here is not to draw attention to yourself, but rather to look polished as a way of showing respect for the deceased and his/her family.
Keep it to a small TV fold, and be absolutely sure to keep a second one on your person. Someone near you will be crying and will surely appreciate your offer of a handkerchief.
Can You Wear A Pocket Square To A Job Interview?
Of course! That said, there are caveats to this to avoid attracting the wrong sort of attention.
Indeed, it’s advisable to dress conservatively at job interviews. With that said, treat a job interview as you would a funeral as it relates to handkerchiefs. Therefore, opt for a subtle white cotton square with a TV fold.
Now that you have learned how to wear a pocket square, feel free to take a look at our other pocket square pages and similar resources: