Here’s why the pocket square is more important now than ever

The (essential) finishing touch.

Over the past decade, menswear has seen a creeping shift towards the casual, even bordering on ubiquitous nonchalance.

As as recently as 2004, it was avant-garde (dare I say rakish) to wear sneakers with a suit; now it’s a summer wedding regularity. Honestly, we’re cool with the switch because it’s not unintentional and moderation: The wedding sneakers are brand new pure white leather – not the New Balances you use to mow the lawn: on purpose. And no one says you have to wear those sneakers with your suit into the boardroom: moderation.

Fashion trendsespecially those that are a reduction in traditional formalities usually hit the most formal circles last.

Therefore, things do not look good for the tie’s future:

For the first time in 40 years, the world leaders from the G7 summit took a photo together in which neither man wore a tie. It conveys a kind of cozy togetherness, as if we are all friends here, even though we are the most powerful people in the world. An “I’m down to earth and a regular person” visual message that political candidates use on the campaign trail, but have traditionally failed once in office.

But looking at this image of men without ties, with an acknowledgment that this is our sartorial future, something feels…unfinished.

What is missing? A pocket in each chest pocket.

G7 photo of The Whitehouse

How to look sharp in a suit or blazer without a tie

Of course, the pocket square is not a new sartorial accessory, but wearing a pocket square instead of a tie is only now becoming an acceptable practice. If the past two years have taught us anything (aside from how much we all need to wash our hands), it’s that most of us can do our jobs even when we’re not wearing a tie. But it’s also taught us that a jacket and shirt combo feels unfinished without some pop of color or frivolous pattern. Bottom line: The pocket square adds intentionality element for the outfit.

The pocket square has a humble history, starting as a literal cotton handkerchief that a man would carry in his breast or back pocket in case of a sneeze, or in case a lady needed to dab away a tear. Over time, the pocket square became an accessory (still sometimes cotton, but more often silk) in its own right, with patterns to complement the neckline or bow tie and colors contrasting enough to add pop to any outfit.

floral pocket square in a navy blue jacket breast pocket

With this movement of relaxed modernity, we see how the pocket square can still add a much-needed pattern or pop of color without tying completely. Removing the tie brings moderation: I am dressed, but not too formally for realistic, modern customs. Keeping the pocket square brings the intentionality: I purposefully chose this square to round off my suit and shirt.

A few frequently asked questions about Pocket Square:

Cotton or silk?

It does not mean anything. Cotton will hold a fold, but it’s also heavier and less forgiving. Silk is light and will settle into an undefined shape, but it can also slide back into the pocket by accident, so keep an eye on it. Silk’s fine appearance generally makes it more formal, the texture of other fabrics more relaxed.

Fold or no fold?

Well, how traditional do you want to be? The pleat with a tip sticking out of the pocket (or a few points) is a bit dated, so if you want to go for the pleat, go for the straight pleat. For me? I never fold a pocket square.

Ok, so if I don’t fold a pocket, so what?

Here’s what I do (for both cotton and silk). Lay the pocket square flat on the table. Pinch it in the middle and lift straight up. The part you keep, that’s the top. Start pushing the bottom of the square into the pocket so that the part you pinched is at the top. Once it’s all in your pocket, pull something out. Let it be a little messy. You are done:

Should I go with a pattern or solid pocket square?

What is the shirt and jacket situation? If you’re already wearing a pattern, keep the pocket square simple. A clean, white pocket square goes a long way. If the jacket and shirt are solid, go crazy.

To be clear, no one is saying to throw away your tie collectionbut when you find yourself in situations where a suit is still appropriate but the tie has been relieved of duty, the pocket square adds a remarkable bit of intentionality without adding to the formality.

Where are the best places to find great pockets?

The attire of the usual suspects (Read our 32 Best Men’s Clothing Brands), here are the direct links to their pockets:

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