Let me open with a confession: I’m not afraid to admit there was a time I honestly believed that pocket squares and handkerchiefs were the damn exact same thing.

I know, shame on me. Dumb Ed.

Who knows, it could be the fact that English is not my mother tongue that contributed to my confusion. Just so you know, in Spanish, at least Mexican Spanish, we would call both a pocket square and a handkerchief by the same name, “pañuelo” (that’s the Spanish lesson of the day for you guys).

It seems though, it is not only people from non-English speaking countries that have problems differentiating between a pocket square and a handkerchief. There are definitely many English speakers that still think of these two garments as the same thing, which shouldn’t be that surprising considering they do look very similar to the untrained eye.

Whether you belong to the group of gents from non-English speaking dapper countries or to the group of simply confused English speakers, my goal is to leave you with all the knowledge you need to tell these two garments apart after reading this blog post.

Let’s do this.

(New to pocket squares? Read this)

Pocket Squares and Handkerchiefs Are (Usually) Made Of Different Fabrics

Pocket Square or Handkerchief

Pocket square. Notice the fabrics and design.

So you have a piece of clothing in a square shape in front of you. You hold it in your hands and wonder: how do I know if what I’m holding is a pocket square or a handkerchief?

The first way to find out is to look at the fabric the cloth is made of.

If it is cotton, chances are you are holding a handkerchief.

If it is anything like silk, satin, or even linen, you are most likely holding a pocket square.

Plain and simple.

There is a very good and important reason why these two garments are made out of different fabrics, but that’s coming later in the post. Let’s jump to the price differences between handkerchiefs and pocket squares.

Expect To Pay Different Prices For Pocket Squares & Handkerchiefs

You should definitely expect to pay very different prices for a pocket squares than what you would spend on buying a simple handkerchief.

Pocket squares are made of much more expensive fabrics and usually will feature a nice design, whereas handkerchiefs are normally cotton, which of course is much less expensive than any fancy fabric.

You can find very cheap pocket squares as well (you might even make your own). On the other hand, you will hardly find a very expensive handkerchief. Who knows, though? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s anyone out there paying big bucks for handkerchiefs. Lucky guys, I guess.

Generally, They Differ In Size

Now this is something that can vary  A LOT from one pocket square to another and from one handkerchief to the next one, so don’t take it as a timeless rule set in stone.

But typically, a pocket square will be smaller than a handkerchief. Why? I have no concrete response to give you, but I suppose the fact that since you normally wear a pocket square in your jacket breast pocket, a smaller size works better to avoid bulking of the pocket.

On the contrary, handkerchiefs are usually larger and are not necessarily carried inside your breast pocket. You can carry them inside your pants pockets or your hidden jacket pockets, so keeping the size small is not a huge priority for handkerchiefs.


Pocket squares designs will regularly be much more complex than a typical handkerchief design.

In fact, I wouldn’t be too off the mark if I said most handkerchiefs have no design at all or a very elemental one. Of course, we cannot take this as another ultra reliable rule, but you’ll find this is actually a very accurate appreciation.

So why are handkerchiefs and pocket squares so different in terms of designs? Well, that’s related to the most important discrepancy between the two…

Pocket Squares and Handkerchiefs Serve (Very) Different Purposes


Plain handkerchief. Snot goes here.

Despite looking quite similar, pocket squares and handkerchiefs have very different functions. Pocket squares are really just meant to be ornaments that go in a jacket’s breast pocket. They serve no other practical purposes other than showing how damn classy you are and what a great style you have.

Diversely, handkerchiefs don’t really have any aesthetical ambitions, but they surely have a very practical reason to exist. Handkerchiefs are just pieces of clothing that are meant to be used whenever you need to clean or blow your nose. You take out your handkerchief, blow your nose in it, fold it and then put it back in your pocket, away from anyone’s view.

This is, in my opinion, the most important distinction between these two garments. Why? Because all other differences (price, design, size, fabrics) find their basis in this very difference.

Or as I once read someone much more articulately describe it:

One’s for showing, one’s for blowing

So that’s it. These are the most important differences between handkerchiefs and pocket squares. You assuredly don’t need to be a style consultant to know these things, it’s just some common knowledge every gent should possess.

I hope this article will at least keep you from blowing your nose in an expensive pocket square. Now that wouldn’t be nice!

Do you have anything to add that I could be missing or got any burning questions in regards to pocket square and handkerchiefs? Line up and leave your comments below, I love reading all things you have to say!

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Peace out!


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