Monday, March 14, 2011


Handkerchief is a small piece of fabric, usually square shaped, serves different purposes. The kerchief proved to be versatile article of clothing over the years. They were not new to people as they had been carrying a small cloth for blowing their noses, to wipe sweat on the forehead, to tie hair. However they were out of sight after using them. Somewhere in the 16th century the handkerchief was used publicly. Women with their exquisite dress/gowns started using handkerchiefs as status of fashion discovery. I was surprised to read that until 17th century the handkerchiefs were in different shapes like round, oval, rectangular, and so on. Later King Louis XVI of France made a law that all handkerchiefs must be square and remained square since then. I used to wonder why my mom makes only square handkerchiefs, now I know. My mom used to make and still makes embroidered, crocheted handkerchiefs. Since my childhood whether I used for a purpose or not it was fun having them in my dress pocket and showing them to my friends, they envied. I used it to raise my hair and tie with handkerchief, some tie it like a scarf around neck, some to the fingers as an accessory for some dance forms. Colloquially it was named hanky since late 18th century. Handkerchiefs for men were larger in size and less elegant unlike those for women. In modern times, handkerchiefs are folded and placed in the pocket of men suit jacket, preferably white. Brides carry heirloom handkerchiefs on their wedding day. Even today handkerchiefs are given as gifts to the wedded couple. During weddings, my family has a tradition that the guests along with a small keepsake would be given a handkerchief with the names of the bride and the groom either embroidered or printed on it.
I don’t know how many would be using handkerchiefs today versus the comfort of having disposable Kleenex handy. Using cloth handkerchiefs would be less wasteful and environmentally friendly too. The handkerchief is truly a timeless accessory.

Interesting tidbit: Revolutions sometimes go backward.
"HANDKERCHIEF, n.:The handkerchief is of recent invention; our ancestors knew nothing of it and entrusted its duties to the sleeves.Shakespeare's introducing it into the play of "Othello" is an anachronism: Desdemona dried her nose with her skirt, as Dr. Mary Walker and other reformers have done with their coattails in our own day-evidence that revolutions sometimes go backward."
-Ambrose Bierce

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