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Etiquette Q&A: Handkerchiefs

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015

“You carry a handkerchief?”

Yes. I’m assuming you are referencing a recent tweet of mine which included the photographed contents of my pockets. I always carry a handkerchief, lighter, and pocket knife. The last two of those three in a change purse.


“Is this for showin’, or blowin’?” My grandfather translated the Yiddish comedy skit for me. I was maybe 6 or 7. The Jewface vaudevillian asked the question while waving a white hanky. It looked none too clean. It looked utilitarian. It looked like a dandy hobo something. I became a fan of the handkerchief. I only now, upon writing this — I’m a fan of the shmata.

Let us make an all important distinction, gents. The one for “showin’,” is in fact called a pocket square and is smaller and made of a finer material. We are not discussing pocket squares in this post. We are discussing the “blowin'” part of the equation – as indicated by this post title – the handkerchief.

First let’s discuss the care of the hanky. A newly cleaned one, daily, should be folded and placed in your back pocket. I keep mine in the one that doesn’t house my wallet. I keep it there with my comb. Simple, easy, goodness.

Do not mistake bandanas for handkerchiefs unless you are currently gainfully employed as a rodeo clown. That said, my hanky of choice is, in fact, a bandana — but of the blank white variety. You can get a whole bunch of them, and for cheap. Look at craft shops/sections. These babies got “blowin'” written all over them. Good size, good toughness, and you can bleach the snot outta them — both literally and figuratively. Speaking of snot, their larger size is perfect for finding an unused spot to use.

That stated, there are more proper handkerchiefs, of which I recommend you sticking to white.

Using a Handkerchief

When seated at a table and the need arises for you to grab yer hanky — use it only to cover your nose until you can get to a more suitable place, ideally a bathroom, where you can engage in vigorous self-care.

When in mixed company, and a sneeze or the need for a brow-wipe rears its head — turn from the people you are addressing. Retreat to a bathroom, or failing that, step away and turn your stupid filthy back. You unmitigated savage, you.

The sharing of your hanky should occur only with a lady. Unless you are in San Francisco and familiar with color code etiquette — which is a different post entirely. Once you give a lady your hanky, it is no longer your hanky. You are gifting this lady your handkerchief. This is not said to dissuade you, this is said because it is proper etiquette.

When offering a crying or hay-fever-struck woman your hanky — in this day and age of lesser handkerchief IQ, I would say something highlighting its cleanliness. Don’t forget, chicks dig manners.


As always, I sincerely hope this helps. I also thank you greatly for your questions — keep ‘em comin’ to nsk57033@gmail.com or tweet me @iamkap.

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Born in Brooklyn New York, Kaplowitz quickly ran away with the circus and somehow landed as a chef in the Chicago and Baltimore areas. He is a published author of poetry and prose, as well as a well seasoned podcaster and radio guy. Among his hobbies Kap counts writing bios of himself in the third person, casino trips, and walking his Dachshund, Ruby Vondella. Please follow him on Twitter @iamkap to be alerted as to his frequent Thrift Store purchases.

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