There is nothing quite like a nice foulard – pocket square/hank,  to compliment one’s jacket. Peeking out of the breast pocket, it is so much nicer than a selection of pens, a spectacle case or worse, nothing!

I do recall first witnessing such a sartorial display.  In the late Sixties I would occasionally stay at my Grandparents in Beckenham during the school holidays. My Grandfather, Hubert (Bert) would come home from the City and was always well-dressed, usually in a dark brown double-breasted suit, suede Oxfords and a fedora. A white or pale yellow shirt normally, all complimented with a dark blue and white polka dot tie with matching hank – the latter I still have.  Occasionally this hank would be replaced with an off-white affair – which I only realised later was made with recycled parachute silk that he had obtained whilst on duty as an ARP warden during the 2nd WW. I still have this too!

Grandfather Hubert posing with double-breasted suit, tie, and hank. He is flanked by his blue polka dot and “parachute” hanks.

I think the first time I dipped my toe was when I went to an elder cousins wedding in the early Eighties. I just wore a grey flannel suit but decided to get a new tie and this came with a matching hank. These were of a Paisley type pattern in red and I still have them, although the tie has frayed on one side. Fast forward another ten years or so and my smart casual was usually a navy blue jacket or blazer with either grey or tan flannels  – but daringly sometimes rose pink or yellowish cords! A little later tan/tweed/cream jackets were added, with navy trousers. On occasions I sometimes wore a tie with a matching hank – but that all then evolved into no tie but just the hank. I have read somewhere that these days the matching combo is not considered cool or fashionable! Anyway, I then started to acquire pocket hanks and like most of my collections, it has grown quite large and will soon breech 30!

Central: pair of Liberty silk hanks (via T M Lewin) but too small at only 31 x 31 cm and on one a poor back view. Flanked by combos by Jaeger (left) and Steffano Ricci

According to my research, King William II and King Louis XIV were two of the first very early users of handkerchiefs – but these were for practical rather than sartorial purposes. In the 1600’s the Italian Medici family exported highly coloured patterned examples into France and beyond. At that time these were used by the upper classes more as attire embellishments, but they also had a practical  benefit in that scents were applied in order to minimise the normal and generally unpleasant odours of the day. From the 1920s through to the 1960’s pocket hanks were quite popular and this time with wider social class appeal. Famous film stars like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire were but many keen exponents at that time, and of course, the masses frequently saw them at the cinema. Nowadays, there is a resurgence of use – but again mainly with the more well-off and sartorially elegant. Happily, this also appears to appeal to a wide age range.

All is not as it seems. From Rubinacci, a 42 x 42 cm HMS Victory hank – see later picture for complete image. Jacket – Jaeger.

The pocket hank orbit is huge and ranges from single colours to lovely patterns and images. Linen, cotton and pure silk are all possible – but my preference really is the latter as they crease less. I also now have a fairly strict size criteria of at least 40 x 40 cm as anything much less can somewhat embarrassingly just disappear within the pocket! A little smaller in a thicker material – say cotton or linen, is viable – but be careful!!

Millie Bridget Henry Hummingbird in blue. This really changes in different light aspects – see later on. Suit – Charles Tyrwhitt.

Pocket hanks are really personal and are chosen on aesthetics 100%.  As such, to date, I have always bought my own and so I would urge caution in buying one for your loved one! My favoured types? Well although I have a few with proper “pictures” on them, I have really gravitated to intricate, colourful, repetitive pattern examples, leaning towards Paisley shapes and Middle Eastern designs.  Why? Well, it is quite simple really.  With a picture you can never see it when it is scrunched up or folded to your favoured display mode. So, it seems to me a little pointless! At least with a repetitive design or pattern, everything that emerges is recognizable – more so if double-screen printed.

Rubinacci Victory hank, flanked by fine cotton “motoring” hanks – believed acquired as a child from Beaulieu Motor Museum in the 60’s.

I will now just show a few more examples of some of my favourites!

Peacock with plants and trees, in brick red, orange and blue – from Drakes. 42 x 42 cm. In fine wool and silk. Blazer- Turnbull & Asser.
From L to R; Hummingbird, Geometric – Navy, yellow and orange, then Labyrinth Blue. All 42 x 42 cm in silk. All by Millie Bridget Henry.
Millie Bridget Henry’s Hummingbird in blue. Four identical images with delightful flashes of colour. Although single print screened, it has good colour on reverse.
Red and pink paisley on a blue background. 44 x 44 cm in silk. Turnbull & Asser. Not double-screened but looks close to it. Blazer-Turnbull & Asser.
From L to R; 33 x 33 cm Pink/red geometric pattern in silk from Baumler. Reversible stripes/flowers in silk from Gagliardi but a mere 32 x 32 cm. Paisley T & A again.
Millie Bridget Henry Geometric again. The colours do change with the light! Suit – Charles Tyrwitt.

I think that will now do. Hopefully, if you have not dipped your toe in the pocket square arena, you may now feel able to do so! There are designs and images for all and prices to suit most pockets – for silk I guess £50 – £150, depending on designer.

To end, it may not have escaped any reader that Millie Bridget Henry gets a fair look-in. Well, quite simply I discovered her recently on an upmarket online site and really liked what she does. Millie graduated from Winchester School of Art in 2010 having specialised in Textile Print Design. She then worked for Huntsman of Savile Row in product design before setting up her own company a few years ago. I have spoken to Millie, and although this year has been tough, she now sells through an increasing number of high-end outlets and is planning to expand her product range. She is also working on a new design collection for the Spring. All the initial designs are done by hand and then uploaded and coloured in electronically and finally sent to a textile printer in Macclesfield. The hanks are are silk and finished with hand-rolled edges. As a consequence of seeing Millie’s squares, I bought the three you see here and I am delighted with them. They are the right size, well printed and the designs are delightful and colourful. Although only single screen printed, the saturation is such that there is good colour on the reverse and this is important for an effective and consistent display. I do like the Middle Eastern influence of some, and it turns out that Millie has travelled to such areas to seek inspiration. Anyway, I encourage you to investigate her  lovely offerings.

Words & Images: The Writer