Pocket squares are not everybody’s cup of tea, but when chosen wisely, and folded correctly, they're the perfect enhancement to a tailored outfit. Whilst the formality of wearing neckties has begun to wane, an increasing number of contrasting fabrics have begun to emerge from the mouths of breast pockets, allowing gentlemen to express their individuality and sense of style without having to button up their shirt collars.
Daniel Craig sports 007 off-duty look
The popularity of the pocket handkerchief has been attributed to Richard II (1367-1400) who carried “a little piece of cloth for the lord King to wide and clean his nose”. Richard was said to have been tall, good-looking, intelligent, and less warlike than either his father or grandfather. He cultivated a refined atmosphere at court, with art and culture at its centre - and no place for runny noses. He became one of a number of British monarchs to influence international matters of style and taste throughout the millennium.
Richard II had a nose for matters of style and taste
The general idea of using a handkerchief as an adornment, rather than to contain sniffles and sneezes, began in the mid-late 19th century, as Victorian frock coats and cravats were replaced by shorter jackets and four-in-hand neckties. Queen Victoria’s eldest son, then Prince of Wales, pioneered this modern look, and most images of the future King Edward VII during the period show him in contemporary neckwear. However, in almost all instances, the breast pockets of his cropped coats remain empty.
Edward VII in contemporary tailoring
The second son of Edward VII was to be his successor, becoming George V in 1911. He joined the Royal Navy as a twelve-year-old boy, leaving to become king at the age of forty-six, and soon after his coronation he became a symbol of British resistance in the First World War. Consequently, it was unusual to see George wearing anything other than military uniform, but a relaxed portrait taken as a young prince in 1885 shows him wearing a modern suit and tie… together with a neatly folded white linen handkerchief in his top pocket.
Rare image of Prince George in civilian clothing (1885)
Nine weeks after his succession to the throne, George V named his eldest son Prince of Wales. The prince became Edward VIII following his father’s death in 1936. Within a year he had abdicated, after causing a constitutional crisis by proposing to American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His title then became Duke of Windsor, but he will always be considered the king of style amongst British royals, and it is difficult to find an image of the dapper Duke without a plume of silk billowing from his out-breast pocket.
The Dapper Duke of Windsor (1925)
The Duke of Windsor was clearly a man with natural style and exceptional taste, understanding the rules, and knowing how to break them. For the uninitiated, the process of furnishing clothes with suitable accessories can be a daunting task. The first place to start is at the beginning - with George V - the naval commander, looking at ease with a solid tie and plain white pocket square. If that sounds familiar, well of course, James Bond used this simple formula to great effect, following the golden rule that (unlike collars and cuffs) ties and pocket squares should never match.
Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (1965)
Naturally, a simple monochrome palette works perfectly for secret agents, but for those who would like to brighten up their wardrobes, the addition of pattern and a splash of colour creates a more interesting look. The key is to ensure contrast between tie and pocket square (in colour, pattern, scale, texture) yet to maintain harmony, both with each other, and also the jacket and shirt, by combining colour tones from the same family. Keeping one or more of the components as a solid will ease the process.
Steve McQueen making the right moves in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
The lead character played by Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair knew a thing or two about style. The outfit chosen for the chess scene (above) is perfectly balanced. The subtle check of the shirt softens its white background, blending comfortably with the cool muted tones of the solid grey suit and lavender tie, allowing the large-scale Paisley pocket square to make a statement - whilst the soft colouring prevents it from screaming. Solid ties work well with checked or striped shirts, but if you wish to add patterned neckwear, make sure the scale is compatible.
A serious moment for Michael Caine in the Italian Job (1969)
In the Italian Job, the majority of Michael Caine's wardrobe is comprised of warm tones of brown, from beige through to deep chestnut, which suit his natural colouring in addition to being fashionable at the time the film was produced. The use of pattern in this period had grown to generous proportion, as can be seen by the width of space between the taupe stripes of Caine's shirt (above) which is tempered by the oversized checked tie and grounded by the solid pocket square, all working perfectly against the beige linen suit. The combination of patterns creates a powerful look - just remember to keep the colour palette consistent.
Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
It is difficult to think of anyone who has "power-dressed" better than Michael Douglas playing the role of Gordon Gekko in the Wall Street films. Combining patterns in all elements of the above ensemble, and getting it right, creates the image of a man who is bold, confident and in control. Get it wrong, and the picture becomes disorganised and chaotic. However, in a world where greed is no longer considered good, a more relaxed, less aggressive look can be achieved whilst continuing to maintain an air of respect and authority.
HRH The Prince of Wales - doing it his way
Following in the well-shod footsteps of his ancestors, the current Prince of Wales has perfected the art of dressing with style and grace. His look is never contrived, appearing effortless but well considered. He combines suits, shirts, ties and pocket squares that never match yet always work together, and in a masterclass of how to accessorise to perfection, he adds a lapel pin and boutonniere for good measure. Dressing like a king needn't cost a princely sum - investing in a small range of quality accessories can bring a wardrobe to life.