Some call it the ‘dollop of whipped cream’, others consider it the only sensible option for a suit’s top pocket but all would be willing to acknowledge that the plain white pocket square is the most common adornment of its type. Even if a gentleman is wearing a blue shirt, pink tie and a grey suit the safest, and most predictable, choice of top pocket accessory is a simple white cotton, linen or silk hank.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, plain white handkerchiefs are easy to find whereas a close relation, the white patterned pocket square, is very difficult to source. Usually silk, though sometimes of linen and cotton, the classic white-patterned handkerchief may have a regular paisley or polka dot pattern but, importantly, has an expansive white or creamy-white background which suggests ‘total white’ from a reasonable distance; in fact, observers on the other side of the street may believe that the gentleman has selected a plain pocket square.
However, closer inspection reveals a less ‘dollopy’ choice for the top pocket; whereas a puff of plain white, particularly against a darker background, can be a distracting diversion a patterned white hank can soften the impact. The eye is drawn to the darker elements dotted around the white canvas which complement the overall background. It has a greater subtlety whilst still retaining the crisp freshness of a plain white.
Another advantage of the lesser-spotted patterned-white square is that it adds a point of interest to paler jackets worn in the warmer months; light blue and khaki jackets, particularly in linens and cottons, need a lush, luxurious foil but not one which will ruin the palette; a plain white is an acceptable choice but a patterned white square suggests greater sophistry.
Though I am an ardent supporter of experimentalism, the Pyramid of Pattern (illustrated above) is always on my mind: when both shirt and tie are patterned, the pocket square should be plain. You can replace any item with the other in the pyramid and the wisdom still applies; i.e. when tie and pocket square are both patterned, the shirt should be plain and, of course, when shirt and pocket square are both patterned, the tie should be plain. In a few situations, a patterned shirt, tie and pocket square work but to my eye it looks a little ‘too much.’
Ideally, a plain white pocket square would require a patterned tie and shirt for the correct aesthetic balance, whereas a patterned white pocket square would best suit either a plain tie or shirt in the Pyramid. As most men tend to favour plain shirts, such an accessory could prove extremely useful.