The following article is by Tom Meitner, editor of CuffLinked Magazine.
Like many men, my first experience with pocket squares was the first time I stood up in a wedding.
All the groomsmen wore their matching tuxes, and we were all expected to wear a matching pocket square with our vests and ties.
Cut to the typical pre-wedding scene: a bunch of guys fumbling in the dressing room to get their pocket squares to sit right and match, with nobody really understanding what they are doing.
Unfortunately, that experience taught me two false lessons about style:
- that pocket squares were only to be worn with tuxedos, and
- that pocket squares were more hassle than they’re worth.
I’m not alone in this, either. Look around you the next time you’re in a room with a lot of guys your age wearing suits. How many pocket squares do you see?
Unless you’re in a high-powered business meeting, I’m guessing not too many.
And that’s a real shame, because as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that the pocket square is an effortless way to add style to a jacket in almost any situation.
Why is the pocket square a style upgrade?
A lot of guys don’t appreciate what the pocket square does to a suit or sport coat. But just adding that extra touch has a remarkable impact on your overall look.
First, a pocket square is a detail. And as you know, the devil is in the details.
Taking your style to the next level doesn’t always mean spending $500 on your next suit. If you pay attention to the details, like a nice pair of cufflinks, a smart-looking watch, or yes, a pocket square, you can look like a million bucks without having to spend a million bucks.
Also, as we’ve established, so few guys are already wearing the pocket square.
Some might argue that the pocket square is back in style and more guys are wearing it. This is true, but I haven’t seen enough evidence that the average guy has bought in. When you wear a pocket square, it will get comments because it turns heads.
You’re in the minority when you wear one, and in this case, that’s a good thing.
Plus, it’s a great way to add color to an outfit.
That burst of color can make a huge difference. Think of the difference between a suit without a tie and a suit with a tie. The pocket square has a similar impact.
And because it’s such a small piece, you can feel free to experiment with colors and patterns without looking loud or obnoxious.
Understanding the different types of pocket squares
When you pick out a pocket square to wear with your next suit, there are two options you have to decide on: material and color.
For materials, you either are going to pick cotton or silk. Cotton is for sharp, crisp folds and can pretty much go with anything.
When you choose silk, you’re usually going for a classier look. Silk can be used in a very casual puff fold (see above), but if you put in the effort for a point fold with a silk square, you’re probably going to use that look in more formal situations.
When it comes to color, you have as many options as you do with ties. Solid colors are easy to match and keep the look very clean. Patterned squares let you have a little fun with your look, and can give you that extra pop when you need it the most.
A few tips for deciding between your options:
- Don’t match the tie and the pocket square exactly. And never, ever buy those tie-and-pocket-square sets. The hallmark of an amateur is the exact match. This is fine if you’re in a wedding (assuming the bride and groom are insistent, and all the better if you can convince them otherwise), but outside of that, avoid the exact match as much as possible. If you have a solid tie, try to find a pocket square that has the color included in a pattern. And vice versa: with patterned ties, you can look very sharp with a solid color square.
- The white cotton pocket square is your workhorse. If you buy one pocket square, this is the one to buy. If you ever are in a rush to get out the door and don’t have time to mess around with colors and patterns, you’re going to grab this one. It goes with literally every outfit and color combination imaginable, and it is always accepted. Your pocket square collection begins and ends with the white cotton pocket square, so you better buy that one first.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with patterns. Got a polka-dot tie? Grab a plaid square. Or try some of the other patterns available, like gingham or paisley. Style isn’t just about looking good – it’s also about having some fun. So buy a little out of your comfort zone and let a few of your squares be louder.
How to fold a pocket square
(editor’s note: See EG’s video on folding your pocket square for a few other ideas.)
When folding a pocket square, you have three basic options.
The first is the straight fold. This fold is for the clean, crisp look. It’s almost a given when you are wearing your white cotton square:
- Lay out your square flat and bring the left side to the right side.
- Bring the bottom edge up towards the top edge, but don’t fold it in half exactly – fold it shorter.
- Now fold it in thirds horizontally so that it will fit in your pocket. The goal is to have a nice straight line peeking out of your pocket.
Your second option is the point, or the one corner fold. This is probably how you wore the pocket square at that wedding you were in. It’s great for more formal occasions:
- Lay out your square flat, but rotate it so it is in the diamond shape. Bring the bottom point to the top point so you now have a triangle.
- Fold the left and right corners in towards each other so that they overlap and you are left with a pointed top that is roughly the width of your pocket.
- Bring the bottom edge up and fold towards the top, but not all the way. You want a nice triangle sticking out of your pocket.
Finally, the easiest fold of all, the puff fold. When you are pressed for time, the puff is the best way to go because it requires no folding at all. It works in both casual and formal situations, but it is definitely fit for casual wear:
- Lay out your square flat.
- Pinch the middle of the square and pick it up, letting the rest of it hang.
- Gather the bottom up and shove it into your pocket. You can either have the pinched part sticking out in the traditional “puff”, or you can flip it and have the loose ends hanging out for a more eye-catching look.
The beauty of wearing the pocket square is that it is incredibly easy to incorporate into your style while adding a bit of your personality into the mix.
Where to get pocket squares
While you can find pocket squares in many different menswear stores, I find that the best place to buy a pocket square is at The Tie Bar.
Note from the editor: I love The Tie Bar as well. While you can find pocket squares almost anywhere, here are a few other options in a variety of price points: The Knottery, Fort Belvedere, Mr. Porter, Fine and Dandy, J.Crew.
There, you can explore a number of different pocket squares for just a few bucks, and you can see how to match the ones you buy with the suits and ties you own.
Are you currently rocking the pocket square when you put on a suit? If not, what’s keeping you? Let’s hear it in the comments below!