Etiquette For The Humble Hanky


Etiquette For The Humble Hanky

Handkerchief Etiquette from Dove Originals

Handkerchiefs date back to ancient Greece, and in the late 1300s the humble hanky became fashionable in England during the reign of Richard II.  And in the USA in the 1900s up to the 1950s, a man would have carried a sparkling white cotton or linen handkerchief in his pocket, and a lady would not have been seen in public without a delicate handkerchief, usually with a lovely lace edging and hand embroidered initials. Today, of course, most people carry paper tissues, but in fact the handkerchief for both men and women is making a comeback, many in colors beyond plain white.

Hermes now offers a unique version of the handkerchief based upon the letters of their brand name; Brooks Brothers offers squares in cotton or linen, and Turnbull & Asser, uniquely, has a limited-edition handkerchief based on a mural from its Manhattan store. 

But there is more to the hanky than simply carrying one. It is important to observe hanky usage etiquette. First, don't confuse a handkerchief with a man's pocket square. Pocket squares are decorative, usually made from silk, and should be placed neatly folded in the chest pocket of a suit coat. The chest square is for showing, while the handkerchief is for blowing.

Rule 1: If you see someone perspiring profusely or crying, you can offer that person the use of your fresh handkerchief but only if it is fresh (unused). After all, you wouldn't give someone a used tissue. And do not ask for your handkerchief back.

Rule 2: Never use a pocket square for your nose or to wipe your brow unless there is no other choice.

Rule 3: You can use a handkerchief in the presence of others, but it is polite to say "Excuse me" prior to wiping your nose. Do not reuse your handkerchief a second time, however, in front of others. Excuse yourself and wipe or blow your nose in private. Place the handkerchief back neatly in your pocket.

Rule 4: If someone loans you a handkerchief, return it laundered. If the loan comes from a stranger, ask how it should be sent back.

Rule 5: Do not stuff a balled up handkerchief into your pant's pocket or purse. Handkerchiefs should be laundered, pressed, and folded neatly into a square.

With the holiday season upon us, a set of lacy handkerchiefs or even several vintage 1940s handkerchiefs with hand crocheted edgings can make a lovely gift for a woman, and a set of plain white, good quality handkerchief squares a useful and practical gift for a man. And if you are feeling crafty, you can easily create a woman's handkerchief with a small square of high quality linen or cotton (hem using a rolled edge) and some fine lace. Embellish with hand embroidered initials and you'll have a very special gift.


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  • anonymous

    I always have a handkerchief on me, it is versatile and I wouldn’t be caught dead without one. I usually use it to wipe a spill, dry my hands and wipe sweat. I always have a second one to offer if a friend or lady needs it. I usually use it to cover a sneeze only when I’m in a quiet place like a fancy restaurant or cinema, so I can block the sound and spray to avoid attention. To blow my nose I only use it if it is an absolute necessity, where my nose is dripping and there is nothing else, as stuffing moist mucus into my pocket doesn’t appeal to me too much, especially considering covid.

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