Handkerchiefs And Pocket Squares: Are They The Same Thing?

Accessories for men can make or break an outfit. Here's a guide to understanding the difference between a handkerchief and pocket square.

Published On Jan 16, 2023 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


What exactly is a pocket square? It is a decorative piece of fabric in a square form that is placed inside the pocket of a jacket or a blazer for men, to add some style to the look. Please remember that a handkerchief is not a pocket square. However, in cases of any emergency, a clean, crisp cotton handkerchief can be used as a pocket square.

A pocket square is simply just another men’s suit accessory. They do not serve any utility but are simply used to accentuate a man’s formal attire. However, the handkerchief is meant for wiping sweat, blowing your nose, or to offer whenever needed (gentlemen always carry a handkerchief!)


The pocket square and the handkerchief are two different things, even though they are used interchangeably.

Pocket squares are:

1. Made of various fabrics, like silk, cotton, and linen
2. Placed in the front pocket of the blazer or coat 
3. Only used as a decorative piece
4. The silk and linen pocket squares stain easily and need to be dry cleaned
5. Smaller than handkerchiefs

Handkerchiefs are:

1. Majorly made of cotton
2. Stored in any pocket - whether of pants or blazer or coat
3. Bigger in size than pocket squares
4. They can be used for many practical purposes like blowing your nose, wiping face sweat, for cleaning dirty hands, or for covering your face while travelling


Various types of handkerchiefs include a cotton handkerchief, silk handkerchief, linen handkerchief, cotton blend handkerchief or even a synthetic one. Amongst pocket squares, the most common types include silk, cotton and linen, but you can also find pocket squares in wool or polyester. However, the edge of your pocket square is the biggest differentiator between various types of pocket squares - both in terms of fabric and quality.

Depending on how you fold the pocket square, the edge is the most visible part. Poor-quality edges fray quickly, thus making the pocket square unwearable. With polyester pocket squares, the edges are loose and sloppy, thus making it difficult to stay at one place.


Most of the pocket squares that you see are small in size. This is what helps them fit into the front pocket of your blazer or coat or suit easily. Since the size is just small enough to fit in the front pocket, you see a clean fit. Pocket square sizes range from 9 7/8" to 17 3/4" (25-45 cms). Handkerchiefs, on the other hand, are intended to be used for various practical purposes as well as are placed in a larger pocket as mentioned above. Hence, the size is considerably larger than the pocket square. 

There are two main factors to consider while wearing a picket square: 

1. Choosing the right pocket square
2. Do not choose a pocket square that looks too coordinated with the different types of suits for men.
3. Each piece of the outfit should contrast and complement, not look matched.
4. Choose the fold and pocket square as per your various moods.
5. Stick to only one ‘loud’ piece for the outfit you select. A bold pocket square stands out when worn with a simple solid-coloured tie. 
6. Try considering silk and cotton pocket squares as they look very versatile.
7. Solid-colored pocket squares are the safest bet, especially when you opt for a formal or business look. 
8. Printed pocket squares make your look less formal.
9. Never have the product label or brand logo visible while wearing a pocket square.


Classic fold: Also called as the Square Fold, the Straight Fold, the TV Fold, or the Presidential Fold, this is seen typically at formal weddings and in conventional professional settings like an office or a law firm. The classic fold looks best with a cotton or linen pocket square and is associated with white pocket squares.

Multi-point fold: This refined pocket square places more focus on the edges of the pocket square. It looks good with a contrasting edge. This fold is ideally used with linen, wool, or silk pocket squares.

Puff fold: This fold is an evergreen favourite, and has a vintage feel to it. The look is enhanced when a silk or silk-wool pocket square is used. 

Upside-down puff fold: This is an elegant fold that combines the texture of the Puff Fold and the Crown Fold. It works well with a silk or silk-wool pocket square.

Shell fold: This fold is very unusual and is not very regularly used because it requires some practice to look perfect. It requires a larger pocket square made from silk or silk wool.

Scallop fold: This fold highlights the beauty of the pocket square’s edges. The border is a key element of the style of this fold. 

Rose fold: This fold combines the rose shape with strong, natural lines. This fold requires a lot of practice and concentration.

Angel’s peak fold: This fold is very popular and is similar to the crown fold. It emphasises the height of a person and gives a sense of structure. It works well with modern looks.

Stair fold: The stair fold requires a silk-wool blend pocket square that is soft enough to drape in a pleasing manner. This helps improve the definition of the fold.

We hope that this guide to understanding the difference between a handkerchief and a pocket square has helped you pick the types you need for any occasion you choose to go to. 


1. What materials go best together?

As a thumb rule, the sleeker the material of the pocket square, the more formal the look is. Whenever you are matching your pocket square to your coat, blazer or jacket, contrast it with a rougher fabric. 

While cotton and linen look good in most of the folds, silk doesn’t stay as rigid (because it is super soft) and is well-suitable for unstructured pocket square folds.

2. How to fold a handkerchief?

Folding a handkerchief is similar to a pocket square. As we have shared before, a clean and crisp cotton handkerchief is as stylish and versatile as a pocket square.

Handkerchiefs are bigger in size than pocket squares, and also have a thicker, material depending upon the quality. Both the size and thickness can affect the bulge of the handkerchief when used a pocket square, so be careful. 

3. Can I use a normal handkerchief as a pocket square? 

Size can be a constraint as a large size may make the same look very bumpy. So choose the size and texture correctly, if you are planning to use your normal handkerchief as a pocket square.

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