How to Fold a Pocket Square
Often woefully neglected, the pocket square (aka ‘handkerchief’) is a small yet powerful element of fashion; its pop of color and versatile folds can complete your look and elevate your style in seconds. That is, if you know how to choose - and fold - your pocket square.
There is no definitive rule on whether you should wear this accessory or not, but since your jacket has a breast pocket, why not make the most of it and truly stand out? We believe that the pocket square is the little detail that distinguishes the suited man from the suited gentleman.
In this article, we’ll dig deep into the nitty-gritty of pocket square info; we’ll look at how to fold a pocket square, how to choose among different pocket square designs, how to know when to wear a pocket square, and more. But if you’d like to pick out some key points at a glance, please take a look at this table of contents for easy navigation:
The square fold, also known as the presidential fold or TV fold pocket square, is the ultimate classic fold and should be your choice for a black tie event. It works best with a white linen pocket square or a cotton pocket square, as silk fabric will slip easily and end up looking untidy. To ensure it stays put, you can iron the folds.
Modest in size and flare, this simple pocket square fold is a wonderful option with a formal suit (see image below). It’s a failsafe option; just consider its other nickname, “the presidential pocket square.” With the clean, simple line of pocket square’s linen or cotton edge, you may not actually be able to command a country, but you will certainly look the part. Incidentally, the square fold is almost identical to a straight fold.
To make the square fold more casual, use a pocket square with a contrasting hem and turn the folded pocket square with the hem pointing up. You can ruffle its edges up a bit as well (below).
This fold can really make a point, which could be one of the reasons they call it the one–point fold or single-point fold as well. It works superbly with cotton and linen, but it can be a pain getting silk pocket squares to sit correctly with the triangle fold.
The triangle fold can be a great way to add some colour to your look; choose a pocket square that contrasts, but complements, the suit. (see image below).
For a more casual look, simply mismatch the edges when folding. That way, you will end up with the so–called two–point fold (see image below).
If you're after something more challenging than the classic square fold or triangle fold, then this fold is just the thing. It requires some patience and dexterity, but the result is really worth the effort. It's easiest to use cotton or linen when attempting it for the first time.
Once you get the hang of it, try it with a silk pocket square. If you’re a fan of the rose pocket square fold, then the stairs fold may be a fantastic new way to take your folding technique to the next level.
Once you manage to successfully tuck your creation into the breast pocket of your jacket, it should ideally look like this:
Again, don’t stress if your first attempts do not work out. This is one of the more difficult suit handkerchief folds to master!
The puff fold is arguably one of the most versatile and easy pocket square folds in this list. If you take away just one idea from this article, we recommend investing your time in learning the puff pocket square, as it is ideal for both casual and formal wear.
The puff fold is a perfect way to show off more of the pocket square’s design, so it works very well with printed patterns and designs (see image below).
For a more dramatic effect, tuck the top of the fold into the pocket and leave the edges out. This variation is difficult to get right without it looking odd, but once again - pocket square technique comes with practice, so don’t get discouraged (see image below).
The winged puff fold looks great with most fabric choices, and with the right styling combinations, it can be equally appropriate for both day and evening wear.
With a relatively simple learning process, the winged puff fold offers a great deal in return. Pair with a solid color pocket square, or choose a fabric with a subtle print; your ensemble will look dashing (see image below).
Practice makes perfect!
Be patient and your pocket square folds will soon reach master level!
Now that we’ve shown some great ways on how to fold a handkerchief for a suit pocket, let’s outline some key handkerchief styles that are available to us all.
Perfect for a classy yet conservative look, solid color pocket squares can be an excellent choice for business outfits, formal event wear, and even minimalist, casual styles. Sometimes, less is more. See image below.
White Pocket Square, 100% Silk
When it comes to patterns in menswear, small repeating designs offer a large degree of versatility. One key consideration to bear in mind is that the pattern should not be too similar to that of the suit, shirt or tie. This style of pocket square works well with any fold type (see image below).
Orange Pattern Pocket Square, 100% Cotton
Pocket squares that feature a bold repeating pattern are typically best suited for casual suit wear. However, you can make use of such a design to spice up formal attire or a business suit, if you really want your outfit to pack a punch. Such a design can be shown off particularly well with a fold such as the puff fold, or any of the more complicated folds like the stair fold or winged puff. See an example of a large, bold repeating pattern below.
Green Flowers Pocket Square, 100% Cotton
This category covers a wide range of possibilities, but is essentially a patterned pocket square that does not have a uniform pattern. By nature, these patterns often work best for casual attire. The image below displays an abstract circles pattern, but this category could include anything from nature scenes to country flags.
Yellow Pocket Square with Shapes, 100% Cotton
Perhaps you may have this pattern on some of the ties in your collection; in fact, you may even have seen matching sets of paisley ties and pocket squares. Paisley designs are well respected in formal menswear and the teardrop-like design has been around for centuries. The design is particularly complex, and so often works best with simple, solid colored suits for contrast. See the example of a beautiful paisley design below.
Red Paisley Pocket Square with Shapes, 50% cotton, 50% rayon
It will likely come as no surprise that patterns containing flowers are a popular choice when it comes to pocket squares. Designs can vary hugely from abstract to realistic. The image below displays a simple, yet elegant, floral pocket square design.
White Floral Pattern Pocket Square with Shapes
The style of a pocket square may fall into multiple categories. For example, you could have a Small Repeating, Floral Pattern.
Generally the smaller the pattern, the more formal and versatile the design of the pocket becomes. If in doubt, a Solid Color design is always a safe choice.
The short answer – any time that you’re wearing a suit, blazer, tuxedo or sports coat! All you need is a jacket and a breast pocket.
For events where a formal dress code applies, it’s our opinion that wearing a pocket square is a must.
Not sure how to fold a pocket square for a wedding? We recommend you keep it simple and conservative – why not try a solid color or small repeating pattern pocket square with a minimalistic square fold?
We recommend the same approach if you’re looking to learn how to fold a handkerchief for a tux. The image below depicting a square fold would be a safe and stylish look for your friend’s wedding.
The professional gentleman must plan not only his business tactics but also his strategy for a refined and appropriate look. We strongly recommend pocket squares be a part of your professional or business attire - especially for important meetings or formal occasions - but they are still optional and up to your discretion.
The main point to recognize here is that your choice of pocket square should remain classy, serious, and conservative. You may be left feeling a little silly if you’re called into a meeting to discuss the financial trouble of the business if you’re wearing a cartoon rabbit pocket square.
The gentleman below is wearing a tastefully patterned pocket square to bring out the best of his pinstripe business suit.
When it comes to pocket squares and casual wear, within reason, anything goes.
A pocket square can be added to any casual suit, blazer, or sports coat look – just make sure that nothing clashes!
A perfect way to do this is to be careful with your colors and patterns:
Colors: Choose colors that complement each other. An easy way to do this is to choose one base colour and simply choose different shades throughout the outfit.
Patterns: ‘Busy’ pocket squares are easiest to pair with simple suit designs (such as solid color, plain suit fabrics, without features like pinstripes or plaid squares). You can still pull off a complicated pocket square with a detailed suit pattern, but the patterns between the two garments should not be too similar to each other.
For example, a pocket square with a small repeating pattern would likely not pair well with a suit with a small repeating houndstooth pattern. Instead, try a solid color pocket square, or a contrast your suit’s small pattern with a large repeating pattern.
Take a look below at how a red contrasting pocket square is making this casual double–breasted blazer come to life.
- Easy to fold
- Extremely durable
For handkerchief newbies, we recommend starting out with a cotton pocket square if you’re interested in the more complex folds, as cotton fabric is easier to fold.
Cotton handkerchiefs are not just for beginners though.
A pocket square should be a close match to your suit jacket’s fabric – a cotton pocket square works very well with a cotton jacket.
For those who wish to build a large collection of handkerchiefs on a budget, cotton is a wise starting choice as it is very affordable.
This makes them perfect for both casual and professional wear.
Magenta and Navy Circles Pocket Square, 100% Cotton
- Premium softness, but a little trickier to fold
- Higher price tag, though a nice companion for high–end jackets
- White silk remains the best choice for black–tie events
When we hear the word silk, we instantly associate it with high quality, and that is very true when it comes to pocket squares.
Though silk handkerchiefs carry a higher price tag, they are a must for a gentleman looking to complete any sophisticated formal look.
In fact, for an event with a formal black–tie dress code, a white silk pocket square is your ticket to sartorial mastery.
A high–quality jacket screams for a premium silk pocket square - just picture James Bond – 007.
Green and Navy Polka Dots Pocket Square, 100% Silk
Here are a few considerations:
- You don’t want to look like a magician about to pull something exceptionally large and bizarre from that breast pocket. The tucked–in pocket square should not create a bulge in the jacket front or flap at the top with every move.
- The pocket square is by no means reserved for formal wear only. It can easily give some charisma to a blazer and jeans outfit and looks great worn casually with a suit without a tie.
- Stay far away from pre–folded and pre–stitched pocket squares (as well as clip-on ties).
- Don’t go overboard with exact color matching. Ideally, the pocket square should harmonize with a color in your tie or shirt. Nowadays, mismatching is no longer frowned upon and, if you’re bold enough, you can wear just about any pocket square you wish. Just about.
- When in doubt, white cotton or linen is the safest bet for your pocket square fabric. You can never go wrong adding it to the suit and white shirt combo. Depending on the fold you choose, it can look either formal or casual.
- It should go without saying that your pocket square needs to be clean and ironed. Nonchalance is good, but messiness isn’t.
- If you are struggling with a fold, don’t try too hard. Your folded pocket square is not an origami paper crane. It helps to keep in mind the following wise words from the stylish Will Boehlke: "Pocket squares, like hats, must be worn with nonchalance. As if they were employed to wipe spilled champagne off a lady's dress mere moments ago".