Fancy handkerchief / 2008
The history of handkerchiefs reaches back to the Roman Empire, however the handkerchiefs came into the common use only in XVIII century. Before that they had served as some sort of a business card belonging to the owner of the item. Beside their aesthetic value, as the handkerchiefs were often decorated by embroideries with the owner’s initials, personal emblem or even the family’s coat of arms, they also testified to the social status, nobleness and the means of their owner. In certain situations they could become a present or the way how to start a conversation with the opposite sex, especially when elegantly dropped to the ground by the lady, or sometimes even presented to the chosen cavalier so that the memory of her would be with him always “at hand”.
I am therefore interested in the handkerchief as the means of contact, playing thus in its own special way the role of a business card. Nowadays the embroidered initials cannot work like this, though. What we need today is to pass on phone numbers, email or website addresses.
That is why I have merged the old with the modern in my photographs so that the contradiction would not be apparent at the first glance, all the same though it would still be visible and perhaps somewhat disconcerting. By the choice of the clothes, handkerchief and its embroidery I have tried to achieve the most authentic period look I could. The pictures refer to five periods of the twentieth century, namely its beginning, the twenties, fifties, sixties-seventies and the present time. I have aimed also to match the handkerchiefs with the character and social status of their owner.
To illustrate better an atmosphere of the early XX century I enclose an excerpt from the three-volume encyclopedia Domácí vševěd/All you need to know at your home/ published in 1925, where the entry handkerchiefis described thus:
A kerchief that solely serves to keep your face clean; it is usually of white colour, rarely decorated by colour-embroidered edges or patterns. Colour handkerchiefs used to be common in yester days and are kept only by the working class now; more presently gay and fancy kerchiefs, of a very small size are worn by gentlemen in the breast pockets as a decoration, much the same as the part of noble ladies’ dresses that used to be common until XVI century. Ladies also wear fancy and scented hankies, which they carefully fold in the appropriate sachet. As for the fabric, they can be made of plain cloth, cotton, rarely lawn, silk; as a rule they are humbly hemmed by decorative stitches, more exquisitely then by embroidery, highlighting of decorative holes, lace, fancy grid-shaped decoration or applications. In such eventualities the hanky ceases to be an item of everyday use and becomes a fashion accessory. Marking then is carried out by a number, emblem, letter or monogram only and always placed in the corner thereof. Fancy decorative hankies are usually folded into special scarves or hand-bags. Ordinary handkerchiefs are washed as every other laundry, nevertheless due to the purpose of hygiene they should be scalded out separately in order to disinfect these before they are carefully placed together with other laundry items into the drawer chest. Japanese handkerchiefs made of white silk require a careful washing in the soap water, then rinsing in a lukewarm water with a bit of bluestone and finally a mere shaking off, wringing and drying out on the white cloth for about 4 – 5 hours; at the very end they are to be gently ironed on the seam side. Using a hanky is a necessity of every intelligent man and therefore no-one should rise their eye-brows if someone else baldly produces such an item in public; in yester days the old term “pocket kerchief” did not keep any-one in doubt that such a piece of cloth was by no means allowed to be used in a decent company and hence such a person was gladly permitted to leave a room, as if he or she had been driven to leave in pursuit of a rest-room. Come to that, even in to-day’s time we can see many people who cannot help blushing when they are about to use a hanky as they frantically try to conceal the item in their hands, yet indeed some are to be seen literally sinking under the table in order to clear their nose so that no-one could see them using the handkerchief and could not therefore hold them in a low esteem. None the less, modern times pay regard to questions of health and thus command us to use it so that we can intercept all kinds of spits and excessive saliva, especially when no near hygienic spittoons can be found, which, as can be assumed easily, are eftsoon dearly missed in places where a splendid company often gathers. Hence our handkerchief can be accepted as a necessary evil, which never-the-less has become a people’s friend; to the contrary – who-ever would shun using a hanky to-day, would ultimately be regarded as socially inferior. Still, some shadows are cast over the usage of our little friend. Handkerchiefs that are used during an infectious disease, such as influenza, gravedo, quinsy or tuberculosis, are not even of capacity to infect their bearer, but such an infection is afterwards spread into his pocket, yet indeed a few pockets as many such people insert the item into all possible pockets they can find on their clothes. For such purpose we should therefore consider a multi-use portable pocket; most suitably it shall be made of leather, secured by a button. Such a trouble has already been sorted out for the ladies who carry their handkerchiefs in a hand-bag, which can be appropriately disinfected. There are also special hand-bags designated only for a handkerchief. Good manners dictate naturally as to what shape and look a handkerchief ought to attain and what is the best way to use it. Gentlemen’s hankies are of a rather middle size, made of cloth, either rough or fine, but by all means always perfectly clean, gently seam-hemmed and never holey. If an emblem, monogram or such must mark the hanky, it shall always be made neatly, but first and foremost shall ever be embroidered in white colour in a corner in non-auspicious and eye-grabbing way. All sorts of boisterous and gay decorative hemmings or big-size patterns or even horse heads, either sown or printed, especially popular with sports-men or ill-educated people, are a gross inelegancy and offence to good manners. Even bigger violation of taste is hemming the handkerchief in the black colour in times of mourning or even using hankies entirely rendered in black. Such a person can easily ridicule him- or herself; instead of showing grief in a dignified manner, which naturally can sufficiently be shown by wearing the kind of clothing required by etiquette and customs. Ladies are presumed to use a finer kerchief, e.g. made of lawn, also with decorated hem or embroidered application, however even here it shall be required the decoration be rendered only in white, neat and not overtly gay and ostentatious; needles to say the hanky shall be perfectly clean. Bad habit of snuffaking fortunately is petering out these days in the modern society and all along goes away using those giant colour handkerchiefs, which used to horrify every decent company, all the more when their owners wiped off their dirty hands with them or even produced long-used handkerchiefs glued-up by old spits and slime. You shall never use a handkerchief for other purpose that the one it serves, such as polishing your foot-wear (especially that endless cleaning of your children’s shoes!), cleaning your hands dry or with water, wiping off your utensils and accessories etc. It is not only un-clean, but first and foremost dangerous for your health, should you use such a dirty handkerchief thereafter on your nose, mouth and such like. Shortly, should you be about to entertain a splendid company or go out seeking thereof, do not forget to take a fresh and completely clean hanky that is perfectly ironed. Should you suffer from catarrh, cough or such like and in despite of the aforementioned you still need to go out, you shall feel safer taking one or two spare hankies, lest you embarrass your splendid self or your company by using a soiled handkerchief. Even though the modern society does not require persons to get out of sight when using the hanky, good manners still dictate that people handle these items in a decent, moderate way that does not offend and disturb. A clean handkerchief just begs to be used decently and unobtrusively; it is not acceptable to unfold hankies theatrically (such as snuffers so like doing), noisy snorting and excessive nose-wiping shall also be forbidden. Such an exercise, ergo using a hanky, shall be carried out swiftly, non-noisily and inconspicuously. Should you have just recovered after catarrh or cough and therefore in need to wipe your nose properly, you can always decently turn away or exercise such necessity aside or before joining the company etc. As a matter of fact, it is a good rule to purify your body not only on the outside, but also inside before you entertain or go out, so that you do not need to submerge into abashment just in a moment when being introduced to some-one, speaking to your superior and such like. Handkerchiefs get mostly damaged on their edges. Having cut off hankies can be revived by sowing the hems decoratively, fixing a different hem or application, but only if such a handkerchief is worth the effort.