Thursday, May 5, 2016

Etiquette for Handkerchiefs

The romance of the handkerchief embraces the etiquette of it. A girl may take her kerchief off her throat and wave it at the incoming guest. She may lightly toss a signal with it at departing friends. She may, if on the water, wig-wag with it and she may follow the the fashion of the country in the manner of manipulating it, in code style. 
The Lady and Her Handkerchief

There is a romance about the handkerchief. Efforts have been made to introduce the black handkerchief, and the one made of blue and white stripes, and the handkerchief that is all bright red or all deep green. But these have failed and the delicate thing of white, linen in the middle and lace around the edge, is the only one permissible for nice occasions. 


The romance of the handkerchief embraces the etiquette of it. A girl may take her kerchief off her throat and wave it at the incoming guest. She may lightly toss a signal with it at departing friends. She may, if on the water, wig-wag with it and she may follow the the fashion of the country in the manner of manipulating it, in code style. 

But when she comes indoors the etiquette of the handkerchief changes. And no article, not even the fan, is as rigidly ruled as the handkerchief. And very susceptible to treatment is the little lacy square. It can be made to denote a great deal or nothing at all. It was at one time thought not very good form to show the handkerchief at all, for it was regarded as an article of toilet, not of display. But this argument proved utterly futile in the face of the exquisite little lace creations that were offered, and woman, in her vanity and in her love of the beautiful, decided that it was far too effective a weapon to be so hidden. 

Moreover, the handkerchief offered something for the hands to do, so woman argued. And when she laid it away she lost one of the most attractive little features of her dress and of frivolity. The handkerchief, the fan and the little wrist bag are all very much a part of the society woman. To handle them well is a triumph of culture and breeding. 

Do Not Abuse the Handkerchief

While liberty is given in the handling of the pocket handkerchief, one must be wary of its abuse. Never on any account take it and tuck it in the front of the gown. You would not handle any other article in this way; then why the handkerchief! In a day's search you would never see a lady unbutton her dress and thrust a purse in her bosom, or a pair of gloves. Then, why should she do so with the unoffending handkerchief?


  • Do not carry in the parlor a vivid handkerchief. Do not carry in the evening one that is loudly lettered with a colored initial. 
  • Do not carry, a handkerchief that suggests a sheet, and do not carry one that looks like, a rag. 
  • Never, on any consideration put the handkerchief into the mouth. 
  • Chewing the end of it is very bad form, yet you do sometimes see ladies do it. 
  • Do not bite or tear at the handkerchief. 
  • Do not mop the mouth with it. 
  • Of course, never rub the forehead and head with it. 
  • And do not wipe the hands on it.

You can, if so please you, delicately touch the lips with its lacy edge and one may sniff it ever so lightly, to get its sweetness. But it must not be put to utilitarian uses, for the parlor handkerchief is an ornament, not a thing for use. To blow the nose with enthusiasm is exquisitely bad form. 

Do not flirt with the handkerchief. This is not good. It must not be tossed in the hand, nor flourished in the parlor. The handkerchief can match the lacy trimmings of the gown and then it is a thing to be tucked in the belt, the sleeve or even In the finger ring, for there are rings built for this. 

If necessary to shed a few tears, the handkerchief can be used to lightly dry the tear drop. It is bad form to weep with abandon in the handkerchief; the emotions must be controlled into picturesqueness. Don't treat the handkerchief as though it were a weapon. Don't play hide and seek with it. Don't let it drop to the floor. 

Don't lay it down upon the table or chair. Don't stuff it into your collar. Don't wind it between your fingers. And don't, of course, carry a handkerchief that is not delicately pristine in its beauty. 

What She Can Do With It

The handkerchief abused is a thing of hissing and a byword. But treated poetically, it becomes a thing of romance, as suggestive in its attractive possibilities as the fan, and one that offers as good a weapon for woman's art.

Let the handkerchief rest in the lap, use it for the fingers, lift it if so please you, but let it not be treated outlandishly. Few women understand the etiquette of pocket handkerchief. But all ladies do. It's treatment may be a matter of instinct, but more often, it is one of studiously acquired art.

The making of a handkerchief, its embroidering and its hemstitching is a thing that i
s dainty in the extreme, and the belles of these days are embroidering the monograms under the light of the parlor lamp, to the admiring looks of the masculine caller. 

The lady and the pocket handkerchief figure largely in the romantic annals of the world's history; and the tear shed at the right time, the whiff of rose, the manipulation so as to display the taper fingers, all assist in the work of love-making for which the world was created. The real lady will never tie articles in the corner of her handkerchief, nor will she use it as a mop or a duster. On the contrary, she will treat it as the most treasured bit of bric-a-brac in her possession. San Francisco Call, 1902

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia