published Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Hip to be square: Fun pocket squares a timeless fashion

The Town Squire menswear employee Ben Inscore models a pre-folded pocket square.
The Town Squire menswear employee Ben Inscore models a pre-folded pocket square.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
  • photo
    The Town Squire menswear store displays pocket squares in a variety of colors.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Flat Pocket Square Fold

The classic and elegant pocket square was initially popular in the 1920s. It's also called the "presidential fold" and is worn by Daniel Craig in the latest James Bond films.

1. Lay the pocket square on a flat surface and straighten it with the palm of your hands.

2. Fold one side over to create a rectangle. Fold the edge to create a strong crease that stays in shape.

3. Fold one side up. How much you fold up depends on the depth of the jacket's breast pocket.

4. Carefully tug the pocket square into the jacket and give some final styling. The final look should almost appear like a sheet of paper is sticking out of your breast pocket. Ideally only 1/4 to 1/2 inch is showing.

Source: tie-knots.org/how-to-fold-pocket-squares.html

Dapper has gone mainstream.

The pocket square, the carefully folded and creased handkerchief-like piece of fabric that men slip into the breast pocket of a dress jacket, is no longer limited to formal attire for a black-tie event or wedding. It's showing up in the workplace, in church and, especially, on celebrities and sports stars.

"It's not a trend, it's a fashion statement for men," says Larry McDaniel, owner of The Town Squire menswear store in Cleveland, Tenn. "The pocket square, or pocket silk, has long been a menswear classic accessory, but I first saw an increase in their popularity about five years ago."

Most recently, celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs are sporting pocket squares.

Richard Cristodero, men's furnishings merchandise manager at Brooks Brothers, told the Los Angeles Times that pocket square sales for 2012 were up 10 percent over 2011.

McDaniel says sales of the square continues to rise in his store.

"I've been in this business for 47 years, and I can tell you it's a fashion statement that will never go away," McDaniel says.

The pocket square is also a big seller at Bruce Baird & Co. in downtown Chattanooga, says store owner Bruce Baird. He's a big proponent of wearing pocket squares with every suit and sport coat, he says.

"You wear squares even if you don't wear a tie, but if you wear a tie, the square should blend but not match," Baird says. "If the tie is a stripe, wear a paisley square. If the tie is paisley, then wear a solid."

Today's most-fashionable men are wearing pocket squares with a casual coat paired with jeans.

While colors and prints, including paisley and gingham, are popular, Baird says white pocket squares are a safe bet with any suit.

"Express yourself with the way you fold it and the color," he says. "Some like more square to show or the elegant fold known as the 'Kennedy fold,' based on John Fitzgerald Kennedy's fashion style."

Though the pre-folded squares -- a piece of fabric attached to a piece of cardboard, are popular with some men, Baird says he prefers the real deal.

The handmade pink and white gingham pocket squares made by Virginia Petitte of Dayton, Tenn., are featured in the 2013 winter edition of Martha Stewart Weddings. Petitte sells the accessory on etsy.com and at the Clay Pot in North Chattanooga.

"I have been really impressed with their popularity," Petitte says, explaining that she first made them as handkerchiefs for her father.

"My father always carries a handkerchief with him, but finding good, white, soft, lightweight material was harder than I anticipated. I went to a local fabric store in Dayton and found some plaid material that I loved. My father said they were too nice to use as handkerchiefs, so pocket squares they became."

Petitte's father encouraged her to sell the pocket squares as a business, so she dipped her toe into etsy.com.

"I started listing them as handkerchiefs but found more and more people were interested in pocket squares, which actually turned out to be a bit of a blessing," she says. "It enabled me to offer more fabric options that I would not have been able to as handkerchiefs, like chambray."

Petitte says her father, who always wears a sport coat or suit, is rarely without a pocket square.

"Although they are in style right now, they really are a traditional part of men's clothing and are timeless," she says.

Petitte says she sells 51 different pocket squares on Etsy with the No. 1 seller being a red, white and blue plaid pocket square at $12, followed by a 16-inch gingham version for $16. They are available in 13-inch and 16-inch squares.

"Plaids tend to be the most popular I have found, with gingham a close second," she says. "I have been impressed with the number of men willing to wear floral. Blues are always the most popular color, no matter the print or style. Cottons work better folded crisply straight across, whereas silks go better as tucked in a peak with a bit more volume."

In stores, pocket squares can range from around $25 to $65, depending on fabric and size. Pre-folded ones cost less than $10.

Chattanooga attorney Mark Ramsey says he owns many pocket squares -- cotton and silk.

"I use white cotton, always monogrammed, for formal," he says.

And, like Baird, Ramsey isn't a fan of the pre-folded style.

"No self-respecting gentleman would even consider a pre-cut one," Ramsey says. "Folding them is relatively simple. I sometimes use a straight-line fold, but more often use the fluffy-point fold. They are a great way to express individuality, when most men's clothing is rather bland."

McDaniel says he's noticed some women also are starting to wear pocket squares.

"I've seen women who wear professional attire, especially a suit, with pocket squares, usually ones that have a lace trim," he says. "It's a good look."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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