Wearing a tie is a convention. Wearing a pocket square, on the other hand, is class. And yet it’s something the vast majority of jacket-wearing men overlook, despite it being little more than a piece of fabric slotted into your breast pocket. Indeed, the pocket square might well be considered essential when one isn’t wearing a tie – to elevate and distinguish in much the same way as a well-chosen tie can.
As for the well-chosen pocket square, fabric is one major consideration: linen or cotton have a crispness to them that makes more complicated folds easier to pull off; but the ideal choice is silk. It has a bounce to it that makes it more expressive and, thanks to its sheen, it’s able to hold colour and pattern more dramatically too.
Indeed, when it comes to colour blue and white are the classics, since they go with most of the standard shades of suiting – variations on navy and charcoal. A trimmed edge can bring a plain pocket square added interest (this only becomes really apparent when its folded into your pocket).
But the point, of course, is that the pocket square is not necessarily chosen to match or to co-ordinate; indeed, while it shouldn’t exactly clash with your shirt and tie in particular, nor should it disappear into your attire either. Rather, the pocket square is chosen to stand alone as a flourish. It’s the fabric equivalent of wearing a cut flower in your lapel. It’s for show – and only for that. It’s not for clearing your nose. Carry another handkerchief for that. As the saying has it, ‘one for show, and one for blow’.
That’s clearly the thinking behind a new line of silk pocket squares from shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser – a company known for its use of colour and pattern. It has commissioned six rising artists from around the world – Toby Triumph, Quentin Monge, Daniel Clarke, animator Matthew Schofield and illustrators Charlotte Trounce and Clare Curtis – to design a series of pocket squares, each in a limited edition of 28 pieces and launching online this November. And, being the products of artists, none are exactly subdued, as the picture above reveals.
Where the real artistry of your own comes in, naturally, is how you choose to fold your pocket square. As with ties, there are myriad options of varying complexity – from the simple straight folded line peeping above the lip of your breast pocket; to folds that bring in a row of regimented peaks, like an Alpine range in cloth. There’s the winged puff and the diagonal shell, even one called the Cagney, named after James.
But perhaps the go-to, most expressive form of fold is none at all. Fred Astaire would balance the centre of his pocket square on his forefinger and use that to simply shove it into his pocket, leaving what amounts to a spray of silk sprouting from it. It takes confidence to wear a pocket square in such a devil-may-care way. But the effect is more dramatic, most expressive and most pleasing on the eye. And it beats any tie every time.