There may be some debate raging in the menswear world over James Bond and whether or not his Tom Ford body-conscious suits are too snug for true elegance (an issue Jack Reacher, the fictional detective whose wardrobe creator Lee Child explains would never have), but in one area, at least, there is consensus: pocket squares make a difference, elevating the super-spy into a new level of swashbuckling sartorialism. Certainly, they help set him apart from “establishment” figure Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes, whose right jacket pocket is noticeably bare. And Bond is not the only one to embrace the accessory.
“It’s a look that says I’m a guy who knows how to dress,” says Michael Hill, creative director at Drake’s, London’s largest independent tie maker, who traces the trend back to inveterate pocket-square-wearers such as Italian dandy and tailor Luca Rubinacci and Nickelson “Nick” Wooster, most recently appointed vice-president of brand, trend and design at JC Penney, who are regularly held up as style icons on blogs such as fashionbeans.com and The Sartorialist.
Mr Porter’s Jeremy Langmead, whose site features an extensive selection of both British and international names including Drake’s, Turnbull & Asser, Richard James, Gucci, and Lanvin (and where sales of pocket squares are up 124 per cent on last year) agrees that the trend originated on the street and was “accentuated by the rise of social media and blogs where real men were photographed as they went about their day”.
Hill believes young men, in particular, have helped boost the trend for “pocket squares”, the American term, or “pochettes” as they’re known in mainland Europe, or “hanks” as Hill calls them – a contention supported by Federico Quitadarno, a twenty-something junior executive at a private equity company in Milan, who says two out of the five partners in his office wear “pochettes”.
“When you work in tax, it definitely livens things up a bit,” says Timothy Golby, head of group tax at Bird & Bird, who has worn silk handkerchiefs by Eton Shirts on a daily basis for the past three years. And even though his three-fronded fleur-de-lys shape puts him in the minority, he believes it’s definitely a way of dressing that’s becoming more widespread.
Acoris Andipa, who runs the Andipa Gallery on Walton Street, Knightsbridge, says he’s been wearing what he calls “pocket chiefs” by Etro for more than 20 years. Generally, there are two ways of wearing pocket squares: sleek and folded, as in Mad Men; or in the style of the bon viveur, where a cacophony of silk overflows the pocket. Dej Mahoney, an entertainment lawyer at London-based AOB, says he goes for the bon vivant flourish, but only in a black tie setting would he ever choose folded. “I’m slightly overdressed for my sector,” he says. “So I wouldn’t wear both a pocket square and a tie. I’d feel like I was trying too hard – a couple of steps down from wearing a bowler hat.”
According to Chris Sedgwick of Jermyn Street shirt maker Hilditch & Key, paisley, polka dot and print with an average retail price of £39.99 and in a variety of colours like royal blue, crimson and bottle greens, and in silk, are current pocket square bestsellers. New York-based Alexander Olch, by comparison, has updated the classic shape and developed a pocket circle instead. Popular on Mr Porter, his plaid woven wool pocket “rounds” retail for £50.
And in Paris, at Charvet, which offers silk pochettes with hand-rolled edges in hundreds of options that retail from £50, director Anne-Marie Colban says: “There are more and more young men who want to buy pochettes.” She believes the attraction lies in the way a pocket square can formalise otherwise casual attire, such as T-shirt and jacket, but in a softer way.
However, Colban cautions that there are some rules to pocket-square-wearing. “It is not appropriate to wear cotton or linen handkerchiefs in the same way as a silk pochette – the latter is best worn naturally in a jacket pocket, so it looks like you haven’t tried,” she says. Also the tie and pochette combo best worn by French actor Philippe Noiret, who “embodied French elegance’, should “never be of the same design.”
Langmead agrees. “A pocket square should not match your tie, although there may be some correspondence between the colours,” he notes, adding that when it comes to pocket squares, there is only really one inviolable law: “It’s not meant to look like a bunch of flowers bursting from your chest.”