A few years ago I was driving to a lunch meeting with a publisher for a book project and the conversation turned to old stuff making a comeback. I took her by surprise when I mentioned handkerchiefs, and even more so when I produced one from my back pocket. I had never really thought much of it, because carrying handkerchiefs is my way of classing up a serious problem with allergies, where my sinuses go DEFCON 1 and launch sneezing attacks at a moment's notice. (Like my man Sneezy says… “When you gotta, you gotta.”)
But I'm not the only one looking to supplement tissues with fabric. The resurgence of handkerchiefs is part of the larger picture of kids born in the 80's reaching back into Grandpa's closet and workshop for a feeling of concreteness and authenticity. Regardless of your position on reaching for retro, I'd argue that the handkerchief, far from being a relic relegated to nostalgic millennials, is a useful tool… and not just for catching sneezes.
Here's a list of some of the things you can use handkerchiefs for in your everyday life.
Rode your bike into town without checking for that unexpected rainstorm, which means you didn't cover up your seat ahead of time? No need to soak your sleeve! Wipe it down with a corner of your handkerchief, and afterwards hang that corner out of your pocket so it can dry.
Spilled ketchup on your shirt on a lunch break? Head to the bathroom, lather up your handkerchief with some hand soap, scrub-a-dub, and you've saved yourself some embarrassment.
3. Ice pack
Thunked your forehead on the corner of the car after grabbing that runaway quarter? Grab some ice from the gas station soda fountain, wrap it up in your handkerchief, and you've got yourself an ice pack.
Need somewhere to put those baby greens you just harvested from your garden? Easy peasy.
5. Phone screen cleaner
Does your screen ever look like you smeared an entire bag of Wavy Lay's all over it? Yeah, mine too. But a good, hard wipe with the corner of my shirt is annoying. Handkerchief to the rescue. It'll do with your eye or sunglasses as well.
6. Portable A/C
The only thing roasting at the ballpark in July should be the kielbasas. Run your handkerchief under cold water and slap it to the back of your neck. The evaporating water will cool you and catch whatever breeze happens to come your way.
Don't be that guy who leaves a ring on someone's table with your sweaty glass. Slip your handkerchief underneath. It's the courteous thing to do.
8. Gear cleaner
Keep the blade of your pocketknife free of sap and liquid with a quick wipe-down.
9. Sleep mask
I don't know about you, but power naps aren't super effective in the glaring sun. Fold the handkerchief over itself several times, and voila, instant dark room.
10. Emergency coffee filter
OK, it's unlikely that I'll ever really need to do this. But I find it an oddly comforting thought that I can make an emergency pourover using a handkerchief as a filter.
Final thought: Two is one, one is none
The efficacy of these suggestions runs off the assumption that you've got a clean handkerchief, but what if you're like me and you're prone to rendering it a useless snotrag within 15 minutes of being outside?
Easy: carry two. As the adage goes, “One for show, one for blow.” They're small, so two shouldn't take up too much pocket real estate. (Bonus: if you're the blazer-wearing type, a small decorative one is perfect for a pocket square.)