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Written by Wesley Kang
Pocket squares are a timeless accessory that adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to any semi-formal or formal attire. Whether you're attending a formal event or simply want to elevate your everyday look, learning how to fold a pocket square can make a significant difference.
In this article, we will explore the history of pocket squares and guide you through the eight most popular and practical folding techniques, highlighting whether each fold is considered casual, formal, or suitable for both occasions.
Jump to the different pocket square folds and how to fold pocket squares with our table of contents below.
Table of Contents
- The History of Pocket Squares
- Types of Pocket Squares
- Classic Fold (Formal & Casual)
- One-Point Fold (Formal)
- Two-Point Fold (Formal & Casual)
- Puff Fold (Casual)
- Four-Point Fold (Formal)
- Winged Puff Fold (Formal)
- Three-Stairs Fold (Formal)
- Slope Fold (Formal & Casual)
- FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
The History of Pocket Squares
The pocket square has a fascinating history that spans centuries and reflects the evolution of men's fashion. Originally known as "handkerchiefs," these small pieces of fabric served practical purposes before transitioning into decorative accessories.
The origins of the pocket square can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In ancient Egypt, people carried small linen squares to wipe away perspiration and keep cool in the hot climate. Similarly, ancient Greeks and Romans used small pieces of fabric known as "sudarium" or "sudarium nasale" to wipe their brows and noses.
As time progressed, handkerchiefs became more prevalent and functional. During the Renaissance in Europe, individuals carried handkerchiefs made from linen or silk to not only wipe away sweat but also protect themselves from the unpleasant odors prevalent in crowded cities.
Pocket Square as a Fashion Item
The transition from utilitarian handkerchiefs to the fashionable pocket square began in the 17th century. King Louis XIII of France is credited with popularizing the use of pocket squares. He was known for wearing intricately folded handkerchiefs, often made from delicate lace or embroidered fabrics, as a symbol of his wealth and refined taste.
Pocket squares gained further prominence during the 18th and 19th centuries. As European fashion evolved, men started incorporating the pocket square into their formal attire as an added accessory.
The 20th century witnessed the rise of the modern pocket square and the pocket square became a standard accessory for gentlemen, especially with the popularity of the three-piece suit.
The pocket square experienced a revival in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to influential figures like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, who were considered fashion icons and incorporated the pocket square into their wardrobes.
Present Day: The Pocket Square as an expression
In the present day, pocket squares have become a symbol of elegance and individual style. They are no longer limited to traditional formal events but are embraced in both formal and business casual settings. From business office meetings to black-tie wedding attires, a folded pocket square allows men to showcase their personality, creativity, and attention to detail.
In professional dress shirt settings, the type of pocket square fold is an indication of style and elegance for semi-formal events. From a simple square fold like the presidential fold to complex folds like a 4-point fold, pocket square fashion is a modern talking point.
Types of Pocket Squares: Exploring Pocket Square Fabrics, Weaves, Styles, and Materials
Pocket squares come in a variety of fabrics, weaves, styles, and materials, each offering a unique look and feel. Understanding the different options available can help you make informed choices when selecting the perfect pocket square to complement your semi-formal outfit. Let's explore the world of pocket square fabrics and discover the distinctive characteristics of each.
Silk is a popular fabric choice due to its luxurious appearance and smooth texture. A silk pocket square exudes elegance and sophistication, making them suitable for formal events. They often feature vibrant colors, a slight sheen, and intricate patterns, adding a touch of glamour to your ensemble. For many, a silk pocket square is considered higher-end.
Linen pocket squares are lightweight and breathable, making them an excellent choice for warm weather. Here's a separate guide to summer fashion trends for men. Linen's natural texture adds a relaxed and casual vibe to your outfit. Linen pocket squares often come in neutral or earthy tones, offering a more laid-back and effortless look.
Cotton pocket squares are versatile and practical. You can fold a cotton pocket square simply as a presidential fold, or as complex as a fleur-de-lys! They are easy to care for and available in a wide range of colors and patterns. Cotton provides a crisp and clean appearance, making it suitable for both formal and casual occasions. It offers a stiffer texture compared to silk and linen and holds its shape more easily.
Wool pocket squares are perfect for colder seasons. They provide warmth and texture to your outfit while adding a touch of sophistication. Wool pocket squares often feature classic patterns such as houndstooth or tartan, making them ideal for adding a traditional touch to your ensemble.
Microfiber pocket squares are a more affordable alternative to silk. They mimic the appearance and feel of silk but at a lower cost. Microfiber pocket squares are durable and resistant to wrinkles, making them suitable for everyday wear. They are available in various colors and patterns, offering versatility and style.
Weaves are not to be confused with the fabric or material. Any fabric could come in various types of weaves and are not necessarily exclusive to the fabric or material.
The plain weave is the most basic and common weave for pocket squares. It features a simple crisscross pattern, creating a smooth and even texture. Plain weave pocket squares provide a clean and polished look, suitable for both formal and casual occasions.
Twill weave pocket squares have a distinctive diagonal pattern that adds texture and depth to the fabric. The twill weave creates a visual appeal, making the pocket square more interesting and visually appealing. Twill weave pocket squares work well for both formal and casual outfits.
Satin weave pocket squares have smooth and glossy surfaces. They are characterized by a lustrous front and a matte back. Satin weave pocket squares exude elegance and are often chosen for formal events. The shiny finish adds a touch of sophistication to your ensemble.
Jacquard weave pocket squares feature intricate patterns woven into the fabric. This weaving technique allows for complex designs and detailed motifs. Jacquard weave pocket squares are visually striking and add a luxurious touch to your outfit. They are well-suited for formal occasions.
Styles and Materials for Men's Pocket Squares
Printed Pocket Squares
Printed pocket squares feature designs and patterns that are directly printed onto the fabric. They offer a wide range of options in terms of colors, patterns, and motifs. Printed pocket squares are versatile and can be suitable for both casual and formal occasions.
Embroidered Pocket Squares
Embroidered pocket squares showcase intricate designs created with needlework. The embroidery adds texture and visual interest to the fabric. Embroidered pocket squares are often chosen for formal events, as they exhibit craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Patterned Pocket Squares
Patterned pocket squares encompass a variety of designs, including stripes, polka dots, paisley, and geometric shapes. They add personality and visual appeal to your outfit. Patterned pocket squares can be both casual and formal, depending on the pattern and the overall ensemble.
Solid Color Pocket Squares
Solid color pocket squares are simple yet elegant. They offer a clean and polished look, allowing you to experiment with different folding techniques. Solid color pocket squares are versatile and suitable for various occasions, from formal to casual.
What's the difference between a handkerchief and a pocket square?
The main difference between a handkerchief and a pocket square is their intended purpose. A handkerchief is primarily used for practical reasons, such as wiping the nose or hands. On the other hand, individuals wear a pocket square as a decorative accessory specifically designed to be carried in the breast pocket of a suit jacket or blazer and its main point is to add style and elegance to an outfit.
Pocket squares come in a multitude of fabrics, weaves, styles, and materials, providing endless possibilities for adding a touch of sophistication to your outfit. Whether you opt for the luxurious sheen of silk, the relaxed texture of linen, or the versatility of cotton, each fabric has its unique characteristics. The choice of weave, whether plain, twill, satin, or jacquard, can further enhance the visual appeal of your pocket square. Consider the occasion, your personal style, and the overall ensemble when selecting the perfect pocket square that will elevate your look and make a lasting impression.
How to Fold Pocket Squares: Types of Folds and Technique
Classic Fold (Both Casual and Formal)
The classic fold is the most basic and versatile way to fold a pocket square. It works well for both business casual and formal occasions, commonly seen in business attire settings. The classic fold is also commonly known as the square fold, TV fold, or presidential fold. To achieve this fold, follow these steps:
Start with the pocket square flat and facing down
Fold it in half vertically from right to left to form a long rectangle
Fold the long rectangle in half vertically again from left to right
Fold vertically in half again, this time from top to bottom of the pocket square.
Make one last small fold (less than half) of the bottom portion, then tuck the remaining into your jacket pocket
If you'd like to make this look slightly more casual, you can make your folds with the corners not aligning entirely, leaving a small misalignment of the edges to highlight any contrast stitching and/or patterns, like so:
The presidential pocket square is the most common type of pocket square fold, and you can't go wrong with this type of folded pocket square.
Don't overthink the classic fold, it's just a straight fold into a square/rectangle and is considered a hallmark in men's style. Wear with a suit and a white dress shirt, or sports coat in more casual settings.
One-Point Fold (Formal)
The one-point fold is a sleek and elegant style suitable for formal occasions. Compared to the classic fold, the one-point fold adds an angle and can draw more attention. Wear the one-point fold similarly to the classic fold: with a suit or similar. The one-point fold is also known as the triangle or single-point fold. Here's how you can achieve this fold:
Start with a flat pocket square.
Fold the pocket square diagonally in half to form a triangle.
Fold the left and right corners towards the center, creating a single point at the top.
Adjust the width and height of the fold as desired by folding the corners in more, or by folding the bottom upwards more.
Gently place the pocket square into your breast pocket with the point facing upward.
Two-Point Fold (Formal & Casual)
The two-point fold is an elevated variation of the triangle fold and is suitable for formal & business casual events. It exudes elegance and adds a refined touch to your ensemble. Here's how you can achieve this fold:
Begin with a flat pocket square.
Fold the square in half diagonally to create a triangle, make sure to fold asymmetrically to create two "points" at the top
Take the left corner and fold it towards the other side, creating a straight edge on the left side
Repeat the previous step with the right corner to create a straight edge on the right side
Adjust the fold by tucking in any excess fabric from the sides and the bottom, so you're left with two points on top.
Carefully place the pocket square into your breast pocket, ensuring the points are visible.
In a semi-formal setting, you can pair the two-point fold with a light gray dress shirt to color coordinate and build a cohesive, professional look.
Puff Fold (Casual)
The puff fold is a relaxed and effortless style that's simple to execute and considered a more casual fold. It is well-suited for smart casual attire and occasions. It can be dressed in a sports coat and is a versatile addition to your outfit for an extra color pop or texture. Don't overcomplicate it! You're basically bunching fabric around a top center point. Follow these steps to achieve the puff fold:
Lay the pocket square flat on a surface.
Pinch the center of the fabric and lift it up.
Gather the fabric around the pinched center to create a puff-like shape at the top.
Adjust the width and height of the puff as needed by folding the fabric inwards from the sides, or folding from the bottom up.
Place the puff gently into your breast pocket, making sure it is positioned securely.
Consider matching the color of your tie to a puff fold for a cohesive look in casual, or smart casual dress code settings. Since you may sport a puff fold in more casual settings, consider selecting a more colorful pocket square to pair with casual dress shirts that have more pronounced colors.
Four-Point Fold (Formal)
The four-point fold is a unique and eye-catching style that is perfect for formal occasions. It adds an intricate touch to your outfit and showcases your attention to detail. Also known as the 4-angled peaks fold, here's how you can create the four-point fold:
Start with a flat pocket square.
Fold it in half diagonally to form a triangle.
Fold the triangle again, from one corner of the triangle into the other, to form a smaller triangle
- Fold the left corner up to create two points
Fold the triangle again, this time the right corner up to create two more points, you may need to "separate" the new fold to get more pronounced peaks
Fold in the bottom, and adjust as needed. Place the pocket square into your breast pocket, ensuring the points are visible. Enjoy the beautiful four point fold, also known as the bird of paradise fold.
You can also create a three-point fold, or three peaks fold, using the same set of instructions, by not separating the peaks
Winged Puff Fold (Formal)
The winged puff resembles a triangular shape which combines the texture of the puff fold with the sharpness of pointed ends, making it suitable for formal occasions. It adds a refined and sophisticated touch to your attire. Follow these steps to achieve the winged puff fold:
Lay the pocket square flat on a surface.
Fold the corners to form a triangle shape.
Fold the smaller-angled corners into the larger-angled corner to form a "diamond" shape.
Adjust the width and height of your fold by folding the sides inward, or the bottom upwards.
Place the pocket square into your pocket, with the vertical lines and folded edge facing out.
Three-Stairs Fold (Formal)
The three-stairs fold is a flashier and intricate pocket square fold that adds a unique element to formal attire. Also known as the pleated pocket square, it is suitable for formal occasions and showcases your attention to detail. Here's how you can achieve this fold:
Start with a flat pocket square.
Fold square diagonally to create a triangle
Rotate the triangle 180 degrees, then take the top flap of the triangle and fold it up, then down to create a rippled smaller triangle.
Repeat step 3 to create a second rippled smaller triangle.
Fold vertically at the center and hold the ripples in place
Turn clockwise 90 degrees and fold in the bottom corners according to the desired width, you should be left with 3 stair-like points at the top of the pocket square.
Place the pocket square into your pocket, with the steps at the top.
Slope Fold (Formal & Casual)
The slope fold is a unique fold that can be both formal and smart casual. It looks slightly different than some of the most popular pocket square folds while remaining classy and timeless. Here's how to fold a slope fold:
Start with a flat pocket square in and rotate it to get a "diamond" orientation
Fold the bottom corner up with slight asymmetry to create two points
Fold the right corner upwards, then tuck it away to create two points sloping downwards.
Fold the left corner upwards and tuck the remaining corner, you should be left with a sloping "mountain" look with two points and a staggered slope.
Place the pocket square into your pocket, with the points at the top.
You can match your tie with a slope fold to create a more cohesive look overall in a formal or semi-formal dress code. To match pocket squares, look for essential and best suit colors that are universally accepted like charcoal, navy, and grey.
Folding a pocket square is an art form that allows you to express your personal flair and elevate your ensemble. How you wear a pocket square can add a subtle touch to how you want to be portrayed.
By understanding the history of pocket squares and mastering various folding techniques, you can enhance your outfit for any occasion and choose the appropriate fold to wear for different occasions. Whether you opt for the classic fold for its versatility, the one-point fold for a formal affair, or the puff fold for a semi-formal gathering, each fold has its own charm and suitability.
Embrace the versatility of pocket squares, experiment with different folds, and let them become your signature accessory that adds a touch of sophistication and individuality to every outfit.
Regardless of the type of event you're attending, a well-folded pocket square will undoubtedly make a lasting impression and elevate your overall look.
Frequently asked questions about how to fold a pocket square
What is the most popular pocket square fold?
The most popular pocket square fold is the classic fold, also known as the presidential or TV fold. It is the simplest to fold, yet is always acceptable, timeless, and appropriate for any occasion.
Does it matter how you fold a pocket square?
Yes--how you fold a pocket square affects how you present yourself. Some pocket square folds are considered more formal, while others should only be worn in a more casual setting. However, if you just learn the most basic pocket square folds, they would generally be considered acceptable on all occasions.
How do you fold a pleated pocket square?
The pleated pocket square, also known as the 3-stairs or stairs fold, is a popular and elegant fold. To fold a pleated pocket square, start with a flat pocket square turned 90 degrees and fold downwards to create a triangle. Take the top flap of the pocket square and fold it up, then down, to create a rippled smaller triangle. Repeat this step to create a second rippled triangle, then fold vertically in half. Turn the pocket square clockwise 90 degrees, fold the sides inwards to the desired width, and place in the suit pocket with the "steps" pointing up.