Rare Moment: White Patterned Pocket Square


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.

One Comment

  1. Paul said:

    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

    I’m rather fond of plain coloured pocket squares but I know a lot of people who think that, if colourful, they should also be patterned and otherwise only wear plain white or cream.

    How would you say the Pyramid of Pattern applies if you wear an outfit without a tie?

    March 25, 2011

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