The art of the pocket square puts a new fold on style
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.