A handkerchief (also called handkercher or hanky) is a form of a kerchief, typically a square of fabric that can be carried in the pocket, for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one's hands or blowing one's nose, but also used as a decorative accessory in a suit pocket. Richard II of England is said to have invented the handkerchief, as "little pieces [of cloth] for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose," appear in his Household Rolls or accounts, which is the first documented use of them. [Barbara Tuchman A Distant Mirror A.A.Knopf, New York (1978) p.444]

Historically, white handkerchiefs have been used in place of a white flag to indicate surrender or a flag of truce.


Use of handkerchief instead of facial tissue paper is often seen as old-fashioned and, especially in North America, unhygienic. On the other hand, some see it as a more environment-conscious choice.

The Kleenex company hadn't initially imagined that people would want a disposable handkerchief, so they initially marketed their product exclusively as a make-up removal tool. It was only later after they discovered that people were blowing their noses into the tissue that they began marketing it for this purpose. cite web |url=http://www.kleenex.com/USA/history/index.aspx |title=Kleenex History|accessdate=2007-03-08 |author= Kleenex|authorlink= |coauthors= |date=2007-03-08 |format= |work= |pages= |language= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]

A bandana is a larger type of handkerchief often printed in a vibrant color and with a paisley pattern. Bandanas are most often used to hold hair back, as a fashionable head accessory, or to identify gang affiliation. In Canada and the US, for instance, the Crips gang members use blue handkerchiefs, and their rivals, the Bloods, use red.

Folding styles

When used as an accessory to a suit, a handkerchief is known as a pocket square. There are a wide variety of ways to fold a pocket square, ranging from the austere to the flamboyant:

*The Presidential, perhaps the simplest, is folded at right angles to fit in the pocket.
*The TV Fold looks similar but is folded diagonally with the point inside the pocket.
*The One-point Fold is folded diagonally with the point showing.
*The Two-point Fold is folded off-center so the two points don't completely overlap.
*The Three-point Fold is first folded into a triangle, then the corners are folded up and across to make three points.
*The Four-point Fold is an off-center version of the Three-point Fold.
*The Cagney is basically a backwards version of the Four-point Fold.
*The Puff or the Cooper is simply shaped into a round puff.
*The Reverse Puff is like the Puff, except with the puff inside and the points out, like petals.
*The Astaire is a puff with a point on either side.
*The Straight Shell is pleated and then folded over to give the appearance of nested shells.
*The Diagonal Shell is pleated diagonally and then folded.

In popular culture

In the United Kingdom at least, the handkerchief has become something of a comedy item. In particular, the British phenomenon of wearing a handkerchief with tied corners on one's head at the beach has become a seaside postcard stereotype. Another source of comedy is found when a more expensive or important item is mistaken for a handkerchief, for example a tie or a pair of curtains. Other occurrences are formed from the comedic potential of a loud sneeze and subsequent nose-blowing;

* In Richmal Crompton's "Just William" tales, William attempts to borrow the Vicar's silk handkerchief from his head using a fishing rod.
* In the film "Bean", Mr. Bean uses an ink stained handkerchief, which ruins the priceless painting of "Whistler's Mother".
* In "Monty Python's Flying Circus", the Gumbies were a clan of dim-witted characters who all wore handkerchiefs on their heads.

In Spanish football, it is a common sight to see supporters waving white handkerchiefs as an expression of deep emotion, both positive in admiration of an exceptional performance by their team or a particular player (even an opposition player as was experienced by Ronaldinho during a victory for FC Barcelona over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, in which Madrid fans openly applauded his performance), or more commonly negatively in disgust at an especially bad performance by their team.

In some movies and television programs, it is used as an agent to hold a few drops of chloroform to hold over a victim's mouth and nose to render them unconscious.

The Handkerchiefs were a band in Seattle's underground music scene in the late 1970's.

Other uses

Judges during British rule in Hong Kong used to place a Handkerchief on their heads to signify a death sentenceFact|date=April 2008. This has not been in use as the death penalty has been abolished in Hong Kong.


ee also

*Handkerchief codes
*Homer Hankie
*Swapping of the handkerchief

External links

* [http://www.samhober.com/howtofoldpocketsquares/pocketsquarefolds.htm Basic to advanced pocket square folds]
* [http://www.esuit.com/howtofold.htm How to fold a pocket square]
* [http://www.pockerchief.com Silk pre-folded pocket squares]
* [http://www.hudsonpocketsquares.com Linen pre-folded pocket squares]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Handkerchief — Hand ker*chief (h[a^][ng] k[ e]r*ch[i^]f; 277), n. [Hand + kerchief.] 1. A piece of cloth, usually square and often fine and elegant, carried for wiping the face or hands. [1913 Webster] 2. A piece of cloth shaped like a handkerchief to be worn… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • handkerchief — (n.) 1520s, from HAND (Cf. hand) + KERCHIEF (Cf. kerchief) cloth for covering the head. Thus it is a one word contradiction in terms. By form handkercher was in use 16c. 19c. A dropped handkerchief as a token of flirtation or courtship is… …   Etymology dictionary

  • handkerchief — The recommended plural is handkerchiefs, not handkerchieves …   Modern English usage

  • handkerchief — ► NOUN (pl. handkerchiefs or handkerchieves) ▪ a square of cotton or other material for wiping one s nose …   English terms dictionary

  • handkerchief — [haŋ′kər chif΄, haŋ′kərchēf΄] n. pl. handkerchiefs [haŋ′kərchifs΄, haŋ′kərchivz΄, ] also [ haŋ′kərchēfs΄, haŋ′kərchēvz΄] [ HAND + KERCHIEF] 1. a small, square piece of linen, cotton, silk, etc., for wiping the nose, eyes, or face, or carried or… …   English World dictionary

  • handkerchief — noun /ˈhæŋkətʃɪf,ˈhæŋkɚtʃɪf/ a) A piece of cloth, usually square and often fine and elegant, carried for wiping the face, eyes, nose or hands. b) A piece of cloth shaped like a handkerchief to be worn about the neck; a neckerchief or neckcloth.… …   Wiktionary

  • handkerchief — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ clean ▪ crumpled, dirty ▪ pocket ▪ lace, linen, paper, silk …   Collocations dictionary

  • handkerchief */ — UK [ˈhæŋkə(r)ˌtʃɪf] / US [ˈhæŋkərtʃɪf] noun [countable] Word forms handkerchief : singular handkerchief plural handkerchiefs or handkerchieves UK [ˈhæŋkə(r)ˌtʃiːvz] / US [ˈhæŋkərtʃɪvz] a small square piece of cloth or paper used for wiping your… …   English dictionary

  • handkerchief —   Hainakā, hinakā.    ♦ Pocket handkerchief, hainakā pa eke, hainakā pakeke.    ♦ Paper handkerchief, hainakā pepa …   English-Hawaiian dictionary

  • handkerchief — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. nose cloth, sudarium; neckerchief; bandanna, foulard; scarf, headcloth, headkerchief. See clothing. II (Roget s IV) n. Syn. kerchief, napkin, neckerchief, headband, tissue, paper handkerchief, rag*,… …   English dictionary for students