Pocket Square Rules and Etiquette in 2019

Whether you’re a pocket square aficionado or just a dabbler in menswear trends, navigating the etiquette of this accessory can admittedly be a bit of a sartorial minefield so below we've set out our pocket square guide.

How To Wear A Pocket Square:

  • General pocket square rules
  • Different pocket square styles
  • What colour pocket square to choose for an occasion
  • Should your square match, complement or contrast with your outfit?
  • Are you aiming for a smart or casual aesthetic, or mulling over what pocket square to wear at work?

If all of these questions leave you feeling a bit flummoxed, read on for our comprehensive pocket square guide on how to wear your square with panache.

We also post daily images of some of our favourite pocket square shots on Instagram, which can be used as a source of inspiration here: www.instagram.com/rampleyandco.

how to wear a pocket square
pocket square guide
matching tie and pocket square

Pocket Square Size

The size of a pocket square has a surprisingly large impact on the fold and pocket square styles that you can achieve, and therefore how it looks in your jacket or suit pocket. A silk square is lightweight by its very nature and therefore anything less than 40cm (16 inches) will tend to slip down inside your pocket. So as you are moving around during the day or evening, you will need to keep retrieving from within your pocket and therefore losing the impact of wearing it in the first place.

Therefore avoid squares less than 40cm that are cheaply manufactured and invest in a square that's between 40cm and 45cm. This rule of thumb also applies to other lightweight fabrics such as wool/silk, cotton and linen.

The only exception to this rule is squares that are made out of a heavy fabric such as Tweed as anything more than around 30cm will hardly fit in your pocket once folded. 

When To Wear A Pocket Square

Historically, the pocket square was a necessity for guests attending dinner parties and other formal engagements. The classic pocket square fashion for smart occasions remains much the same today: a white, handkerchief-style pocket square folded into a flat fold (more on that later). However, even within the sphere of formal attire, there is still scope to experiment with your arrangement and move outside the standard white pocket square rule.

We are occasionally asked, is there ever a time not to wear a pocket square? The answer to that is not really. Once you become a regular square wearer you'll find that not wearing a square is like leaving the house without your shoes.

It's really a case of degrees. If you want to go for a very conservative look choose a pocket square that is only a shade or two lighter than your jacket and go for a flat fold, or something that provides just a little bit of contrast such as a dark brown square with polka dots.

when not to wear a pocket square

Tonal monochrome shades work well for pocket squares teamed with black or grey suits, for instance, while a vibrant pop of red adds interest to crisp blue suits, particularly in summer. A puff fold can also offer a more nonchalant approach to formal dressing than the classic flat fold.

However, in more recent times, the pocket square’s recent resurgence in popularity has also led to an influx of men elevating their everyday looks and showing a bit of sartorial flair.

We like to keep a plain white pocket square for formal occasions, but a square that is predominately white with either a coloured edging or light pattern provides a relatively conservative look that will work in all business environments.

white pocket square

A well-cut suit or jacket certainly makes a strong statement about a man, but to really stand out, it's your accessories that really make all the difference. Just look at the difference the humble pocket square can add to a relatively simple jacket. Not a flamboyant colour combination or fold, but a subtle accent featuring our Kinglet Calyptura that works perfectly in the work environment. 

When to wear a pocket square

In fact, that's one of the reason's we started Rampley & Co. We felt that there was a dearth of truly unique and interesting men's accessories so we partnered with some of the world's leading galleries to try and create striking accessories which you can be seen in our online store

So the question is no longer when you should wear a pocket square, it is indeed how you should wear your pocket square. To truly dress like a gentleman we've created a free eBook which covers factors such as pairing your tie and pocket square, how to match your accessories, how your jacket should fit etc. The free guide can be downloaded here: 13 Essential Rules To Dressing Like A Gentleman.

Matching Tie And Pocket Square

One question we often get asked is around whether you should be matching your tie and pocket square. The short answer is no. Although it might seem like an easy way to coordinate your outfit, matching your pocket square and tie or bow tie is a definite no-no in modern dress.

Instead, the purpose of the pocket square is to complement the rest of your look: either by harmonising or contrasting with your other accessories. So although some stores even offer matching tie and pocket square sets, our advice is to steer clear of these if you want to be seen to be on top of your style game.

If your pocket square has a pattern or print, for example, then pick a colour from that palette to bring your look together and match it to a primary colour in your ties such as in the image below. The burgundy in the tie is reflected in sections of the pocket square design.

Matching tie and pocket square

Equally, you could choose a pocket square that is a shade lighter or darker than the core colour of your ensemble. Remember, it’s all in the detail, so don’t be afraid to bring out an accent colour on a subtle pinstripe or checked shirt.

Below is a beautiful example of this sort of coordination using our Saint Emidius pocket square. The complementary colours of the burgundy jacket and brown tie against the dark greens in yellows of the pocket square. However, there is also the pop of cream that contrasts the dark colours but is similar tonally to the patterned shirt.

Tie and pocket square

Alternatively, if you want to make your pocket square the focal point of your look, you could opt to clash your pocket square with your tie and, indeed, the rest of your outfit. With this, it really is a case of ‘the bolder the better’: experiment with vibrant colours, eclectic prints or even textured materials such as chambray, leather or tweed to pull this off.

So that you know you should never directly match your pocket square and tie, below we have set out some basic tie and pocket square rules so you will always look sharp.

Pocket Square Rules

Below is a handy pocket square guide when choosing your pocket square:

  • Choose a secondary colour from your shirt or tie as the primary colour for your pocket square
  • Don't overdo the patterns, ensure some articles of clothing are flat colours which will accentuate the colours in your pocket square or tie
  • Don't directly match your tie and pocket square
  • If you are wearing a silk pocket square make sure it is over 40cm x 40cm (16 inches) as anything smaller the fine material is likely to slip down into your pocket
  • Match your fold to the occasion. For formal occasions stick to the flat fold or one or two point folds, for more casual occasions use some more flare with the classic puff fold or one of the more flamboyant fold as set out below.
  • White pocket square rules; for the most part, there are no rules. White squares work with every jacket and tie combination and colour so you can never really get it wrong with a white pocket square.

How To Fold Your Pocket Square

Once you’ve chosen your square, there remains the all-important decision of pocket square folds. As mentioned, you should match your fold to the occasion, but also keep in mind that certain folds will lift the colours in your square. The classic pocket square fold is known as the flat fold or presidential fold, and is often seen in classic images and TV programs set in the 50's and 60's.

presidential fold pocket square

While this evokes images of another time, it now really only works for formal events. We would definitely advocate experimenting with folds that are a bit more flamboyant.

The simplist to achieve is the puff fold with your pocket square, which involves pinching the centre of the square and then twisting or folding it, before placing it in your breast pocket so that the corners are at the bottom and the central design remains visible. Not only is this fold easy to achieve, but it works for most situations from the office through to a summer wedding, see more on this below.

puff fold with check jacket
puff fold
puff fold pocket square

If your square has a design that incorporates an interesting border then you want to make the most of this with a point fold or perhaps a Dunaway fold.

For step-by-step guides on how to achieve different folds, see our pocket square folding guides here: how to fold a pocket square.

How To Fold A Pocket Square For A Wedding
Often a wedding is when all gentlemen like to look their Sunday best. Even for those not normally known for their elegant dress sense, it is one of the few times each year they will be prepared to make a concerted effort. Below are 3 of our favourite folds for a wedding, in order from the most conservative to the most flamboyant. Click on the image to go through to our folding guide for that particular look.

White Pocket Squares

Perhaps the most classic of all is the men's white pocket square. From the grainy white pocket square, black suit photo's from the early 20th century, this simple square has an illustrious history. The key reason being that this square works with every jacket and pattern combination, there are no real white pocket square rules to take into account when selecting your chosen outfit.

The classic understated look is the flat fold as seen below on the left. This is the most formal look and works for any situation or event you may be attending. Our advice would be that this simple square can be elevated with just a touch of colour, whether that be evidenced coming through in your fold or by having a coloured edging to your square. 

One look that that is always timeless, is the white pocket square navy suit combination as seen below. 

White pocket square rules
White pocket square navy suit

Black Pocket Squares

The pocket square is generally used to provide a bit of sartorial flair to your outfit, with contrast generally being the key goal. The black pocket square when paired with a dark navy or black jacket being the exception to this.

Often used in more formal settings, it can give you quite a polished finish. However, the main issue is that often your sartorial endeavours are not even visible until others are within touching distance.

black pocket square

It is our opinion that if you are looking to get the plaudits you deserve with a black pocket square you should either go for a square with a hint of pattern or a classic white shoestring. The white trim will always give that clear contrast that completes the jacket beautifully.  

black pocket square with white trim

Suit Pocket Squares

As a general rule of thumb, there are no distinct pocket square rules for a when pairing your pocket square with a suit relative to wearing a sports jacket or blazer. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

Firstly, a suit is a more formal option than a stand-alone jacket, therefore you will often be wearing it in a more formal environment. Therefore, the safest choice is to wear a plain or very lightly patterned square in a presidential fold such as the below.

Suit pocket square with presidential fold

The next thing to consider is the pattern of the suit. Depending on your own personal style, if you choose to go for a more vibrant pattern with your suit then the more formal etiquette would be to go for a plainer pocket square design to provide balance. Note the square in the below image complementing the shirt colour for a beautifully balanced look that is perfect for a corporate environment.

Suit pocket square etiquette 

Finally, there is the more flamboyant look, where the accessories are contrasting against the suit colour. In the below, you have a navy blue suit with the small hint of burgundy in the pocket square complementing the tie. This style is our favourite look for a suit, where it's not over the top, but definitely displays a sartorial flair to leave a lasting impression. 

We are often asked, what colour pocket square with a navy suit works best as the navy suit is such a classic suit choice. Fortunately, a plain navy suit is effectively a blank canvas, so it's more a case of choosing a colour or pattern that is right for the environment, be it business or more casual.  

What colour pocket square with a navy suit

Tuxedo Pocket Square Rules

For the most part, there are only two main rules when choosing your tuxedo pocket square colour. If it's a formal black-tie event, it's generally considered appropriate to wear a white pocket square in a presidential pocket square fold (flat fold), or a conservative puff fold.

However, for the vast majority of events that you will attend, a pocket square with a pop of colour is more than acceptable, and often the way that you can differentiate yourself for everyone else. It's also worth considering wearing a tuxedo with a more adventurous colour other than the standard black.

 

Pocket square black tie
Tuxedo pocket square
Tuxedo pocket square rules

Pocket Square Styles

One of the great things about a pocket square is they are so incredibly versatile in how you wear them and reasonably subtle changes can have a big impact on your style. The colour that you choose and the fold that you use is really a function on the colour of your outfit, the nature of the occasion, whether it be for work, or more formal such as a wedding, and your own personal style.

When choosing what pocket square to wear with a suit, you could choose a conservative fold such as a flat fold and position it so that it is around a half to an inch is viewable above your pocket. Whereas is you use colours that are in high contrast with your jacket and use a more flamboyant fold that really catches the eye. Below are some examples from our Instagram feed of some more conservative and flamboyant looks that demonstrate how to wear a pocket square.

Conservative Styles
So firstly, below are more conservative styles. The pocket square is quite subtle in its positioning and also the colours complement other hues in the outfit. 

Pocket Square Styles 1

Flamboyant Styles
In comparison, below are some images that are more flamboyant in either their colour contrast or fold. With the more flamboyant styles the square naturally draws the eye and makes more of a style statement.

Pocket Square Styles

Pocket Square Without Tie Styles
Some people have a perception of the type of occasion around when to wear a pocket square, i.e. formal and worn with a James Bond style suit and tie. On the contrary, pocket squares can be a casual accessory which adds a touch of flair to an open shirt and jacket combination.

pocket square without tie

Pocket Square Holders

It is possible to buy pocket square cards, or a pocket square holder that effectively holds your fold in place. We would strongly advise against these products for a couple of obvious reasons. 

Firstly, if your pocket square is the correct size, 40cm to 45cm for most fabrics such as silk, linen or cotton, or around 30cm for heavier fabrics such as tweed, there is enough volume with the fabric to hold almost any fold firmly in place.

Pocket square holder

Secondly, by wearing a pocket square you are instantly elevating your style, displaying that you are a man of sartorial flair and panache. For that same man to be relying on a pocket square fold card is akin to wearing a clip-on tie, rather embarrassing if spotted.

Simple pocket square folds such as the puff or two point, are easy to master and give you the opportunity to display your personality while taking the time to master a complicated fold can be both enjoyable and create a real talking point at your event or occasion.

Pocket Square vs Pocket Handkerchief vs Suit Handkerchief?

Finally, we do get asked whether you should refer to it as a pocket square, pocket handkerchief, suit handkerchief or even the French term pochette. For the most part, they are interchangeable, however, we definitely would advise using the term pocket square. A handkerchief does have the connotation of something that you use to blow your nose, whereas a pocket square (or pochette if you want to display your European flair) is a classic touch of sartorial elegance, essential to completing your outfit.

Conclusion

In short, we at Rampley and Co believe that the pocket square offers an incredibly versatile accessory option; allowing modern men to express themselves and vary their look without having to invest in different suits and outerwear. You may also be interested to see our post on shirt and tie combinations which has further insights into matching your accessories to get the most of our your outfit.  

Click here to view our full range of Hand Rolled Pocket Squares.

Updated: 4 April 2019

 

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