Handkerchief Guide: What is a Handkerchief?

Throughout history, certain objects have managed to transcend time and remain relevant in our ever-changing world. The handkerchief is undoubtedly one such item, seamlessly blending practicality with style. In this article, we invite you on a captivating journey to explore the handkerchief and understand why the handkerchief continues to stand the test of time.

What is a Handkerchief?

A handkerchief is a small square piece of fabric specifically designed for personal use, serving both versatile and fashionable purposes. It is typically kept in a pocket or carried in a bag for convenient access. 

Handkerchiefs are used for wiping or blowing the nose, playing a crucial role in maintaining a polished personal image. Furthermore, they serve as decorative items and traditional accessories, adding a touch of elegance to formal occasions.

History of Handkerchief

The history of handkerchiefs can be traced back to two distinct origins. In ancient China, dating back to the Zhou Dynasty around 1000 years ago, archaeologists have discovered cloth fragments held by Zhou statues. It is widely believed that they were used to shield from the sunlight. In the later Qin Dynasty, people referred to them as “jin” and used them for wiping the face, aligning with the present-day function of handkerchiefs.

Meanwhile, research indicates that the term “handkerchief” was mentioned by the ancient Roman poet Catullus in the first century BC. The ancient Romans used handkerchiefs called “suarium” to wipe sweat from their faces and necks. They also served as a means of conveying information and communication. In certain competitions, people waved white cloths to signal the start of the event.

During the medieval period, the Silk Road not only facilitated trade along its route but also brought Chinese culture to Europe. Handkerchiefs began to appear among the upper class in Europe, serving as accessories that showcased fashion and social status. They were often made of expensive silk and were considered precious possessions at the time.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, handkerchiefs became more widely accepted by the general public for personal hygiene. However, they were primarily used to wipe sweat from the cheeks or forehead and to blow one’s nose privately.

During the Victorian era in the 19th century, handkerchiefs became more decorative, adorned with intricate embroidery. They were often given as gifts and carried romantic symbolism, representing emotions.

In the 20th century, handkerchiefs became ubiquitous and were no longer limited to delicate materials like silk. Cheaper fabrics such as cotton were also used, and handkerchiefs were used to protect against pollution. However, with the widespread outbreak of influenza, the use of disposable tissues became more common, leading to a decline in the everyday use of handkerchiefs.

Today, due to the rise of the vintage trend and people’s emphasis on environmental protection, handkerchiefs are still cherished by many. They effectively reduce environmental impact.

What is a Handkerchief Made of?

Common fabrics used to make handkerchiefs include cotton, linen, and silk, available in solid colors, prints, and more exquisite options with decorative lace or intricate embroidery.

Cotton Handkerchief

Cotton is one of the most commonly used fabrics for handkerchiefs due to its softness, absorbency, and durability. It is gentle on the skin, causing no irritation, even with frequent wiping. Cotton handkerchiefs are suitable for wiping the face or blowing the nose. Additionally, they are easy for you to care for and withstand frequent use and washing.

Cotton Handkerchief

Linen Handkerchief

Linen handkerchiefs have a long history and were widely used in ancient Egypt. They possess the characteristics of softness and comfort. Linen handkerchiefs have natural antibacterial properties, are lightweight and breathable, and exhibit excellent water absorption. They are your ideal choice for wiping sweat from the face or neck, preventing bacterial growth, and inhibiting odor production.

Linen Handkerchief

Silk Handkerchief

In past eras of strict social hierarchy, silk handkerchiefs symbolized nobility. Today, they still represent luxury and sophistication. Natural silk is gentle, smooth, and unlikely to cause allergies. Even if you have sensitive skin, it can provide you with comfort. Its temperature-regulating properties offer a cool sensation in hot weather. Silk handkerchiefs are commonly regarded as fashionable accessories, allowing you to showcase effortless elegance.

Silk Handkerchief

In addition to cotton, linen, and silk, other materials can also be used, such as silk blends and polyester. You can choose based on your preferences and needs.

What is the Size of the Handkerchief?

Handkerchiefs come in various sizes to accommodate different usage habits and purposes. The most common size for a standard handkerchief is 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5cm), striking a balance between practicality and portability, making it convenient to carry in your pocket. 

Of course, you can also choose handkerchiefs in other sizes. For example, there are 8 x 8 inches (20 x 20cm) options that are more suitable for women, as well as larger sizes like 18 x 18 inches (45 x 45cm) that provide a larger surface area for a wide range of uses.

What is a Handkerchief Used for?

A small handkerchief possesses remarkable versatility and serves multiple purposes in your daily life. Its primary function is to maintain personal hygiene, commonly used for wiping the face, hands, or nose. In polluted environments, it can help to some extent in combating contamination.

Beyond its practical uses, a handkerchief is also a fashion statement. It can serve as an accessory, adding a touch of trendiness or unique elements to your outfit, making you stand out. You can fold it and tie it around your neck or use it as a headband, freely expressing your interpretation of fashion.

Furthermore, handkerchiefs hold their own cultural and symbolic significance. They can represent emotions or serve as lucky charms and are used in special ceremonies. In some traditional cultures, embroidering meaningful symbols or letters on handkerchiefs represents personal identity or family heritage. 

For more about the uses of handkerchiefs, check out this article: What is a Handkerchief Used for?

How to Care for Your Handkerchief?

To ensure the safe use and prolong the lifespan of your handkerchief, proper care is essential. When cleaning, it’s best to separate the handkerchief from other clothes and use a gentle washing cycle. Hang them to air fry or use a low-temperature tumble drying to maintain their shape and appearance.

Regular cleaning and storing them in a clean place ensure the freshness and hygiene of the handkerchiefs.

However, it’s important to note that silk handkerchiefs require more delicate care and are best hand-washed or dry-cleaned.


Handkerchiefs are items that combine functionality with decoration, exuding a sense of tradition and elegance. They accompany us as time moves forward. Handkerchiefs offer a wide range of choices, allowing you to select the fabric, size, color, print, and other details that suit your specific requirements. They will become a means for you to express yourself.

More Resources:

Handkerchief – Source: Wikipedia

What is Blended Fabric –  Source: Sinosilk

What are Bandanas? –  Source: Sinosilk

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