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The art of the pocket square puts a new fold on style

About Alice T. Carter
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The rules

Just like choosing between a suit and a sport coat and slacks or deciding to wear or omit a tie, it's important to know the rules for choosing a pocket square, says Tom Michael, a partner at Larrimor's, Downtown.

“You're going to meet people you want to influence. Fifty percent of what (information) you transfer in the first minute is nonverbal.”

That tiny bit of material peeking out of your breast pocket is a 3⁄4-inch display of your personality, says New York-based, Emmy-winning stylist David Zyla. So give some thought to the occasion you are dressing for, Zyla advises.

If you are interviewing a money manager to handle your retirement portfolio you may think twice if his pocket square is patterned with martini glasses or beach balls, Zyla explains.

On the other hand, if you're an ad rep making a pitch to a vodka producer, those martini glasses may be just the touch you're looking for.

“The guy who has a bit of a fun pattern or a checkerboard pattern shows he's a bit of an innovator … red silk shows more bravado. By nature, he may be a bolder person than the guy with the blue chambray square,” Zyla says.

“Like with ties, the guy who is ultra-conservative is going to wear a plain white one. The guy who is more flamboyant is going to wear pink or purple,” Joseph Orlando Jr., buyer and co-owner of Joseph Orlando Gentlemen's Clothier, Downtown.

“I don't recommend you match (the pocket square) with the tie because that's not the most sophisticated way to wear it,” Michael says. “You should pick up accent colors in the pocket square from the tie, the suit or the shirt.”

Which way you choose to fold your square is more a matter of individual taste.

The Presidential — that crisp, straight-edged ¾-inch of white linen bordering the top of the suit's pocket — offers a nice, clean look, Michael says. “But it's not the only way to wear a pocket square. All are appropriate. The one that works best is the one you use. … Fashion is a perspective. It's how you interpret it, and what you feel great wearing.”

Michael does offer one absolute prohibition: The pocket square should never be confused with or used as a handkerchief, which should be kept in your back left pocket for emergencies.

“The best time to use it is when a woman is in need. Whip out a clean, pressed hanky and you look like such a gentleman,” Michael advises.

— Alice T. Carter

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By Alice T. Carter

Published: Monday, July 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Don Draper often wears The Presidential. So did Ronald Reagan.

Daniel Craig's James Bond favored a one-point with a tuxedo.

Throughout his career, Cary Grant was pictured wearing everything from the crisp Presidential to a poufy fold.

No matter which folding pattern they chose, they all sported that once-universal hallmark of a gentleman ­— a carefully folded pocket square tucked into the upper pocket of a suit jacket.

It all began around 2,000 B.C. when men began carrying the early form of a handkerchief for utilitarian purposes — absorbing damp areas on the body — one's own or someone else's, says David Zyla, a New York-based, Emmy Award-winning stylist and author of “Color Your Style.”

By the time of the Renaissance, handkerchiefs might have become more of a decorative object. But a scent-soaked square also helped mask the odors produced by city living.

“By the 1900s, the well-dressed gentleman never went out without one,” says Zyla.

They're not just a nostalgic artifact from a bygone era, though. Now known as pocket squares, they are once again an essential accessory for men who use them to complete a look.

“What spurred the return of the pocket square is when guys stopped wearing ties so often,” says Joseph Orlando Jr., buyer and co-owner of Joseph Orlando Gentlemen's Clothier, Downtown.

Previously, Orlando says, “when a guy wanted to look a little different, he would throw on an eye-catching tie. It was a personal way to express their taste and personal style.”

The pocket square became a more comfortable replacement for the tie and an easy way to brighten up a basic black, blue or gray suit and make it look a little more formal.

“It takes a suit to a new level,” says Tom Michael, a partner at Larrimor's, Downtown. “You can also wear it with a sport coat. … It's a splash of color.”

White pocket squares still attract buyers.

But Michael says Larrimor's sells nine pocket squares with patterns and colors for every white one.

The choices are abundant and diverse: silk, wool, chambray and synthetics; stripes, gingham checks, plaids and paisleys, and colors that range from subtle shades of gray to vibrant lime greens, fuchsias and purples and patterned with tiny stars, polka dots and martini glasses.

At the 2013 Oscars, Robert Downey Jr. wore a black square with white dots with his tuxedo jacket, and Alec Baldwin accessorized his outfit with a tiny tangerine triangle of silk.

Even hard-core traditionalist Prince Charles has been photographed wearing a black-and-white-checked pocket square in a clam fold with a morning coat.

Squares come in a wide range of prices. Most range from $40 to $75. But it's possible to buy a pocket square at Macy's or Nordstrom for less than $20 or one by a high-end designer for $127 or more.

Elliott Mower discovered they were an affordable way for him to vary a limited business wardrobe.

As a recent graduate of the Masters of Arts Management program at Carnegie Mellon University, Mower, now assistant director of external affairs at Pittsburgh Public Theater, decided it was time to learn how to dress more professionally.

“I think the most important part of dressing is pocket squares,” says Mower, who now owns a dozen of them. “You don't have to have a ton of money to buy a pocket square.”

He likes squares with subtle floral patterns. His favorite is a red-and-cream silk square with an art-deco pattern.

But his go-to choice is a plain white square.

“If I wear a color that's not a traditional business color, I get interesting looks,” Mower says.

But for opening nights, he goes all out by matching his pocket square to colors from the production.

“I feel better if I'm put together,” Mower says. ‘It's just a little detail that's unexpected in Pittsburgh, a little thing you can do to elevate your look.”

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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