Friday, April 19, 2013

Vintage Handkerchiefs

At parties in the 1800s, because of the strict social structure, men and women were not always permitted to talk to each other. Instead, they used handkerchief sign language. These were aspects of the language:
Drawing handkerchief across the lips: I would like to meet you
Drawing handkerchief across the eyes: I am sorry
Drawing handkerchief across the cheek: I love you
Drawing handkerchief across the forehead: We are being watched (!)
Winding handkerchief around forefinger: I am engaged
Winding handkerchief around third finger: I am married
Twirling handkerchief in right hand: I love someone else
Then, jump forward into the 20th century when handkerchiefs took on new purposes and appearances. They are brightly displayed in The Printed Square by Nicky Albrechtsen, a great book filled with the history of handkerchiefs. To entice you to read it, here are some of the detailed designs of the useful fabric squares featured in the book. I wonder what the inspiration for each unique design was... 
This one reminds me of this 50s décor diner
...And this handkerchief of Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night
This makes me think of the cover of Animal Farm and an oriental rug
...And this one of Tulle skirts and peonies
What do these handkerchiefs remind you of? Today, handkerchiefs are more often used for art than for functionality. However, like any other vintage item, they are very functional in giving us an idea of what life was like in the past.


  1. I have a few old designs on paper for handkerchiefs in a collection of works by my great great grandfather! It's too bad they aren't around much today.

    1. Wow, I would love to see them if possible! Did he actually have them made into handkerchiefs or were the drawings just part of his sketches?


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