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Post Scriptum: Square Scarves & Tied Pocket Squares

Post Scriptum: Square Scarves & Tied Pocket Squares

I think that our recent Borrowing From the Boys article deserves a small post scriptum, a few more words on the subject of men wearing square scarves... or replacing them with pocket squares.

You know - although I encouraged you to borrow and experiment, I realize that I couldn’t possible convince everyone so easily. Wearing such accessory is not an easy thing; it is usually a conscious style move, not a safe move from the menswear playbook.

This time, however, I will not be talking about the dandies from the 17th or 18th century. I won't mention cowboys; I won't even mention the history of cravat - instead of delving deeper and explaining somewhat abstract examples, I will try to find a sensible reason (and examples) for why you should been tying something around your neck.

However, there will be a small introduction first. I would like to set the tone for this argument by emphasizing that the more we move away from ties, the more scarves make sense for men. Especially now, after the pandemic, in these loose dress-code **times, they are useful like never before.

When we talk about menswear, we are usually discussing sets composed of specific elements - trousers, a shirt, a jacket (sometime replaced by knitwear) and some accessories, a tie and pocket square perhaps. The first three make the frame of the set - they are large, usually subdued; they serve as a starting point - and the rest are extras, a kind of spices that can more or less change the character of the whole outfit.

To show this more graphically, I like the food analogy: think about meat, a chicken for example. You can prepare it in hundreds of ways. It can be delicate, without any seasonings, sauté - or it can be swimming in a thick, creamy mushroom sauce (or teriyaki). In some cases - if you are serving it to people who have some allergies, prefer to show the pure taste of good quality meat or think that this particular dish should not dominate over other, more expressive courses on the table - the first option makes sense. Otherwise, if you just want to make a tasty and filling one-dish dinner, you will probably go with the second, more intense variant.

This is exactly the case with clothes - if you are dressing for an important occasion, consider that the outfit may also be considered as something easy or hard to digest by those around you. If you want the jacket or shirt (meat) to play the main role, you should be careful with the accessories (spices) so as not to overdo it and distract attention from the main component - but more often, for a good result, you will reach for the figurative salt, pepper and a bouquet of herbs to season the whole thing, choosing a bright, patterned tie and a colorful pocket square to match your navy suit and a bengal stripe shirt.

Unfortunately, in the post-covid menswear world, it is becoming harder and harder to use the traditional spices. The relaxed dress code environment restricts us to a clothing diet; bland, tasteless style starts to dominate. Just think of the politicians’ navy suit, white shirt and no tie combo, something I would call an equivalent of steamed turkey breast with mashed carrots. However, if you are served an unseasoned dish, you can always…

…add some ketchup.

I probably should have been writing this text after the meal, not hungry before - but I hope you get the point. Finding an analogy between the ketchup and scarves is not meant to insult them - what I mean is that they may be an equivalent of a ready-made sauce that can be added to the dish already cooked; something that will bring in the new flavor, even if the meal has not been properly seasoned before serving.

Simply put, when one of only three factors falls out of the equation shirt + jacket + tie = good outfit, it is worth replacing it later with something else that will equally effectively introduce color, replacing the missing element without adding in the formality.

What I like about the scarves is that they do not need to be so thought-out and coordinated as a tie does - they can be added in last minute, serving as a final touch.

So let’s have a quick rundown on the most popular options.

Large scarves - those in a square format with 65 cm long sides, sometimes even larger - are the most difficult and arguably feminine topic. They are harder to tie and stick out a bit; you have to accept that they tend to dominate the outfit and therefore need a strong counterweight within the set, e.g. in the form of a strong texture (Shetland wool sweater, tweed jacket) and/or multiple layers, including a jacket or coat on top.

Here at Poszetka, we are moving away from the nomenclature of calling them women's scarves - they should rather be treated as unisex - but we still see the limitations of use. They are something to be combined with casual wear, perhaps serving as a more fanciful substitute for a scarf, not an accessory to a classic, elegant suit. However, when the pairing is right, such a big scarf is just wow - sometimes even transforming something boring into something spectacular with a one simple move.

Bandanas are smaller - classic, western-style ones are usually about 50 cm wide, ±5 cm. They can be rolled just slightly and tied with a triangle-shaped piece of fabric left loose in the front (as cowboys wore to protect their necks from the wind or the nose and mouth from dust) or can be rolled completely and tied backwards, leaving the ends sticking out for decoration.

I've been experimenting with these recently… and frankly, I'm not convinced. Well, at least not as much as I thought I would be. The triangle looks full-cowboy and therefore does not seem versatile; wearing it the other way around seems not to solve the problem, as the bandana is large enough to stick out and draw attention, but still not large enough to have the drama of the large square scarf. It's also partly a thing of the fabric - traditional bandanas are made of cotton, which is not as elastic and flexible as silk or wool.

That's why I, personally, consider an even smaller format to be the best option - small scarves (45 x 45 cm) or large pocket squares (40 x 40 cm) that is**.** The difference here is subtle; a lot depends on your neck circumference. A 40 x 40 cm pocket square tied on someone wearing a 37 collar size will look virtually the same as a 45 x 45 cm scarf tied by the size 44 wearer. Of course, even for the smaller scarves, I still suggest choosing silk, wool or blends with a healthy dose of the aforementioned (our cotton, modal and cashmere mix also works great) as pure linen or cotton would be too stiff.

If you are wondering how does it work in practice, just look at our photos, for example those from fall/winter lookbooks - there, apart from individual examples (and a slightly larger bandana from the Baltic collection), we usually wore pocket squares on our necks. It looks delicate; scarf fits under a shirt collar and serves as a decoration without being too loud. Additionally, with a T-shirt or a round neck sweater, the hanging ends can be easily tucked in for an even subtler effect.

Personally, I don't mind if pocket squares end up around our necks more often than in our breast pockets. With a change in trends that can be noticed, it may herald a second youth for this accessory in a different role... a one that effectively replaces two accessories, both tie and a traditionally worn pocket square, especially when the former would be inappropriate due to its formality and associations.

Well, it was supposed to be just a short post scriptum to the article about women borrowing men's things, but it turned out as long as usual. I hope that it is at least for everyone’s benefit; maybe you will find my suggestions useful. Just as I recently encouraged you to borrow scarves in return, today I am adding some advice on re-using your pocket squares the different way - eventually, the point is that even when you have to give up something, you don't have to give up on the option of decorating your neck and spicing up the outfit entirely.

After all, many things taste better with ketchup. Right?

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