The Handkerchief as Tie


Men rarely get to wear silk without appearing foppish.

So it’s a shame that so many decline to wear a tie. It is pretty much the only opportunity a man has to decorate himself with a length of patterned silk.

Some prefer not to wear a tie because it seems uncomfortable. Others because they associate it with school or with dull, office work (the ‘noose of the Man’). Still others dislike wearing one because it appears too formal – in an old office of mine the appearance of someone in a tie was always greeted with the question “got a meeting today?”

Now if wearing a tie is uncomfortable, your shirt is probably too small. But there’s nothing to be done about the psychological scars of school days or a hatred of the Man. I would suggest instead the addition of a silk handkerchief in your breast pocket.

A good guideline for wearing a handkerchief is to think of its colour in the same way as you would that of a tie or a shirt. If it is there for background, for reinforcement but not to catch the eye, then go for a plain colour picked out from the rest of the outfit – blue or white from your blue or white shirt, for example. This is nearly always the best option if you are also wearing a tie, but may also be useful if you already have a surfeit of pattern elsewhere.

The alternative is to treat the handkerchief as a tie. This is where it gets fun. Select your blue serge suit and a pale blue shirt, and then pick out a handkerchief with the same colour harmonies in mind as with a tie. A burnt orange pattern might go well, or perhaps a dark, paisley purple. Pale green can go well with the right tone of blue, and a patterned burgundy will look smart.

If you feel conformist one morning, opt for a sharp white cotton square. If you’re feeling a little crazy, select a pink foulard handkerchief, overflowing from the breast pocket.

The handkerchief is the replacement for the tie. It is the same opportunity for decoration, shifted across your body and stuffed in a pocket.

Your neck is free and it’s unlikely you look like a schoolboy; yet you have retained that avenue of expression. You look smart, perhaps even more conservative; yet you can still wear silk.


Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at He has too many suits.


  1. Roderick Mallia says:

    So (excuse my ignorance), is the silk handkerchief tied in the same way as a normal tie? How about some pictures as well? (hint, hint)

  2. Handkerchief or pocket square goes to breast pocket of a jacket.

  3. Roderick Mallia says:

    Jukka, I’m somehow led to believe that this article isn’t about pocket squares…

  4. Sam Jones says:

    Roderick and Jukka, I think you’ll find if you read the piece carefully that this IS about pocket handkerchiefs. The handkerchief is the replacement for the tie in that it is an opportunity for decoration. It is not worn around the neck. The line”I would suggest instead the addition of a silk handkerchief in your breast pocket” is a clue, as is “select a pink foulard handkerchief, overflowing from the breast pocket”.

  5. Roderick Mallia says:

    Yes Sam you’re right. Since then, I re-read the whole article and also the second part to this article, which is in fact, about pocket squares.

    And there was I thinking that neck foulards made their way through… 🙂