January 09, 2010

One to Blow and One for Show

Of handkerchiefs let Othello set out our stall:
‘To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition / As nothing else could match’ (Othello, 3:4:67-8).
The only thing more overblown than the noses of influenza sufferers is all this bunk about sneezing and coughing into one’s elbow or into a tissue that should immediately afterwards be discarded. These two options, seen side by side, beg an awkward question: if tissues are to be incinerated with haste, lest the evil germs fester therein and, God forbid, infect somebody, then what are we to think of the aggregate of viral nasties dwelling in the crooks of our collective elbows? Are we also to eject our clothing at the first opportunity? I have not seen any inordinate queues at the drycleaner, so I can only assume that so-called ‘polite’ sneezers bear hazardous arms. The days of romantically linking arm in arm are over, for in such friction, danger lurks.

The reality is that nobody who remotely values the clothes on his back would want to sneeze into his elbow, any more than he would wipe his nose on his sleeve. And tissues? A loose agglomeration of dust! Anyone who has accidentally left a tissue in a pocket to be laundered will readily tell anyone who cares to ask why such expensive, wasteful, papery frivolities are to be avoided at all costs. Let us instead remember the handkerchief. Confess – handkerchief! – O Devil!

Nothing is more elegant than a fresh linen hanky, neatly pressed and folded, and placed in a trouser pocket. If one has to sneeze or terminate an unwelcome sniff, and even the most refined of us do, then the handkerchief is a welcome resource. No one could frown on such a thing. In my experience, it’s best to have two on your person. One for your personal use, and one unused one, just in case you come across a damsel in distress. In addition to this washable, sanitary and elegant device, I recommend sparing a thought for the dress handkerchief. The one that is blown ought only to be seen when, well, when blowing. But there is also one for show.

A neatly arranged silk handkerchief is rarely seen in the top pocket of men’s jackets these days, but I cannot for the life of me think why not, since the pocket universally remains. A well chosen silk will lift any outfit, and given the current scarcity of such items, will set you apart as an individual with a strong sense of style. No novelties please (if you click this link, you should go forward to about the three-minute mark), but an idiosyncratic mix of colours and patterns is at the discretion of the wearer. It makes me smile whenever I see one; conversely, each time I see a sharp suit or blazer bereft of adornment I lament with Desdemona:
‘Sure, there’s some magic in this handkerchief: / I am most unhappy in the loss of it’ (Othello, 3:4:101-2).


  1. You remind of something I read recently in my favorite etiquette columnist, Miss Manners (writes in the Washington Post), whom I venture to recommend - if that's the word - by way of two links, the first on sneezing, the second on carrying the handkerchief.



  2. Ah, wonderful. I was not aware of this fair maiden. I'm glad she shares my views so exactly. The links, should anyone else happen by, are reposted below because of a slight problem.

    miss manners

    miss manners 2

  3. Hi,

    You might like this blog. The female version of Being Manly:


  4. Duly added to the site. Thank you 'O', for your feminine touch.

  5. Great blog, I shall be popping by again. Thank you for linking to mine!



Related Posts with Thumbnails