Handkerchiefs and Pocket Squares: The History and the Etiquette

For the purist, the only legitimate pocket square is one of white linen; and a white linen pocket square is only properly worn with a white shirt (or a shirt with significant embellishments in the color white). For the purist, only between ¼- and ½-inch of the white pocket square should be exposed, and the upper edge of the exposed portion should be parallel to the opening of the jacket pocket into which the square is placed. The objective is to create a visual and proportional balance between the portion of white shirt-cuff that extends beyond the jacket sleeve of a properly fitted jacket and the white pocket accessory. The “puff,” “points,” and “butterfly” pocket square formations that some men wear, then, even when of white linen, are regarded by the purist as “distractions.” And even more distracting are those colorful pocket squares—usually made of silk—that are color-coordinated with ties, shirts, or jackets. Wearing colorful pocket squares is a popular practice that, according to purists, should be abandoned posthaste. As far as the purist is concerned, if a man wants to wear a “flower” on his jacket, he should be bold and wear a real flower! After all, that is the precise purpose for the placement of a buttonhole—also called a “boutonnière”—on the left lapel of a jacket.  Yes, a man is entitled to display panache, but it must be done with good taste.  (It should also be noted that with black tie wear, the pocket square is always white to complement the shirt—never black to match or compliment the tie or the tuxedo. Likewise, with white tie wear, the pocket square is always white—to complement the shirt, the complement to the tie being coincidental). But what the purist finds especially egregious is the wearing of tie-and-pocket square sets! That, in his way of thinking, is the fashion equivalent of painting-by-numbers. Unless a man wants to look like a dodo, he should regard tie/pocket square sets as a definite no-no—according to the purist.

The decorative pocket square’s affiliation with modern-day menswear begins in ancient times as a ceremonial, and then practical, handkerchief. It would not be until the 1950s that the pocket square would assume a purely decorative role.

The earliest records of handkerchiefs date back to 4th millennium B.C.E., Egypt, as evidenced by the red-dyed linen squares found at Nekhen [Hierakonpolis]. By 2000 B.C.E., wealthy Egyptians were carrying bleached-white linen handkerchiefs, presumably for hygienic uses:  A beautiful stela housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria shows Keti and Senet carrying handkerchiefs. Throughout the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, handkerchiefs—plain and elaborate, perfumed and unscented—were used for everything from absorbing perspiration to wiping the hands and nose to shielding city dwellers from urban stench. But it was in the 1920s, with the rise of the two-piece suit, that men started wearing pocket squares in the left chest pocket of their jackets.  And immediately, it became unthinkable for a gentleman to wear a jacket without a pocket square.  Before the 1950s, when, for hygienic reasons, disposable tissue became preferred over cloth handkerchiefs, gentlemen would routinely carry two handkerchiefs:  one in their pants pockets for personal use; and one in the chest pocket of their jackets in the event they needed to quickly offer a clean handkerchief to another person—especially a damoiselle in distress. Rather than reaching into a private, obscured part of the one’s garment to procure a handkerchief, a gentleman would, in plain view, simply pluck the handkerchief from his chest pocket and present it to the person in need. But in the 1950s, with the hygiene-justified preference for disposable tissue over cloth handkerchiefs, the once-practical chest handkerchief was relegated to being a purely decorative accessory.  And once the pocket square no longer served its hygienic purpose, it no longer needed to be white—except for the purists.  Over the years, pocket squares have waxed and waned in popularity. In the 1970s, for example, pocket squares had virtually fallen into oblivion; but since the 1980s, there has been a steady resurgence, especially of the colorful, patterned, silk varieties.


How To Remove Stains (Blood, Ink, Red Wine, Rust, and Food) From Garments

Removing Stains

Most stains are best removed if treated before they are “set” into the garment in the laundering process. When stains appear on white garments, chlorine bleach is generally the go-to solution, but chlorine bleach is generally bad for fabrics—especially linen and silk—even if it is generally good for removing stains. Commercially available non-chlorine bleaches are another option. But there are less harsh and equally effective remedies for stain-removal. And when stains occur on colored garments, non-chlorine bleach remedies are generally required.

-Blood—even dried blood on white garments—is best removed by squirting hydrogen peroxide directly onto the stain before the garment has been washed or saturated with water. A second application of hydrogen peroxide, along with gentle agitation of the stained area, may be required.

-Ink is best removed with isopropyl or ethyl alcohol (70% or 90%). Alcohol should be poured or squirted directly onto the ink. Thereafter, the ink-stained area should be gently agitated as additional alcohol is applied to the area. (Ink stains that have been laundered are significantly more difficult to remove).

-Red wine—even dried-on red wine—is best removed with isopropyl or ethyl alcohol. Alcohol should be poured or squirted directly onto the stain before water or any other solution, as recommended by “conventional wisdom” (such as club soda, white wine, or salt), is used in an attempt to remove the stain. Oftentimes, once in contact with alcohol, the stain will dissolve without agitation. When necessary, however, additional alcohol, assisted by gentle agitation of the stained portion of the garment, should be applied.

-Rust stains are traditionally removed with lime juice and salt; or with mild detergent with ammonia. Today, there are commercially available rust-removal products that are very effective.

-Most food-stains are best removed by soaking the stained garment for several hours is a washbasin containing a solution of hot water, transparent cider vinegar, and baking soda. Occasional agitation may be required. A paste consisting of transparent cider vinegar and baking soda may also be applied directly to the stain and allowed to “set” for at least 30 minutes, with occasional agitation, thereafter rinsing the garment in lukewarm water.

How to Eat Genips at the Formal Dinner Table

Genip [Melicoccus bijugatus]  (also called Kenep, Quenepa, Mamoncilla, Spanish Limes)

The genip grows  on a large tree that has a silvery-gray bark, somewhat like that of the European beech. Genips grow in clusters like grapes, though the fruit itself resembles a small lime—hence the name “Spanish lime.” Same-day international deliveries have helped the emergence of this fruit from its natural habitat onto the world scene since the smooth skin of the fresh fruit begins taking on a sandpapery texture within a day or two after being picked. And though the enclosed fruit retains its flavor and texture for about a week after being harvested, the genip’s overall appearance is at its absolute best on the day it is picked.

Eating a genip is almost an art form. Most hostesses will serve the fresh fruits on a plate as picked from the tree:  in grape-like clusters with some foliage. One by one, the fruit is plucked from its cluster and conveyed to the mouth, where the incisors are used to pierce the shell-like skin—which is similar to that of an avocado, but slightly more brittle—such that the incision by the teeth at the “equator” of the fruit causes the rind to partially split open, thereby revealing the succulent, peach-colored fruit. The consistency of a genip is perhaps best likened to a lychee, though the texture of the genip is smoother and glossier. Once the “shell” has been incised, the fruit is squeezed into the mouth and eaten by using the tongue and teeth to remove the pulp from its seed, which is almost the same size as the fruit. (The riper the fruit, the easier its pulp will yield). When the seed has been eaten clean, it is skillfully released from the mouth back into the breached shell-skin, where the eaten-clean seed is discretely—and elegantly—concealed before being placed to the side of the plate.

Foie Gras: Everything a Gentleman Should Know About One of France’s Great Culinary Luxuries

Foie Gras

“Foie gras” is French for “fat liver.” And that is precisely what this time-honored delicacy is: the fattened-up liver of a goose or duck. It could perhaps be best likened to a dish comprised of one part liver and four parts butter: It is absolutely, shamelessly, sybaritically delicious. Though foie gras is enjoyed in many parts of the world, especially in Europe, the United States, and China, it is a quintessentially French food—so much so that what qualifies as foie gras, at least in France, is determined by French law, which states that foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck that has been forced-fed corn by gavage, involuntary feeding by use of a tube inserted into the stomach via the mouth. Outside France, the term “foie gras” may be used to describe goose and duck liver that has been fattened by natural feeding, but to the French, who are undoubtedly the authorities on foie gras, any method short of gavage would be cause for a “coup de gras.”

The History of Foie Gras

The inspiration for foie gras, despite the controversial and “unnatural” manner in which it is made, may have come from nature itself: Migratory birds, prior to departing on their long journeys, gorge themselves on food so as to build up fat reserves to sustain themselves on their arduous pilgrimages. And men who may have slaughtered those migratory birds just prior to their departure may have realized the gastronomical benefits of their extra fat. As far back as 2500 B.C.E., the Egyptians engaged in the practice of force-feeding geese, as evidenced by a bas relief scene in the tomb of Mereruka, a royal official of the 6th dynasty, in which workers grasp geese by their necks to push feed down their throats. Apparently, the Egyptian practice of fattening geese spread to other regions because three thousand years later, Cratinus, the 5th-century Greek comic poet, describes geese-fatteners, though no specific reference is made in these early records of geese being fattened for the specific purpose of fattening their livers. By the first century C.E., however, Pliny the Elder describes foie gras as a distinct food when he credits his contemporary, Marcus Gavius Apicius, with engaging in the practice of feeding dried figs to geese in order to enlarge their livers. A duck in the wild might double its weight in the autumn months, storing extra fat throughout its body and especially in its liver, in preparation for its migration. But a force-fed duck produces a liver that is six to ten times its normal size.

The Making of Foie Gras

Toulouse geese and Mulard ducks, the latter a cross between a male Muscovy duck and a female Pekin duck, are the breeds most often used for foie gras. ( The Mulard, also spelled “Moulard,” is a sterile hybrid, hence its name, which derives from “mule,” the sterile hybrid of a male donkey and a female horse). The birds used for foie gras are usually slaughtered at approximately three months old. They are kept in a building with straw flooring for the first month of their lives; then they are put outside to graze on grasses for several weeks; thereafter, they are brought back inside for, gradually, longer periods of time before the final stage—the forced feeding. During the forced-feeding stage, which lasts 12 to 15 days for ducks and 15 to 18 days for geese, the birds are confined to tiny individual or group cages. The feeding entails inserting an 8”- to 10”-tube made of steel or rubber, to which a funnel is attached, into the animal’s esophagus via its mouth. The food consists of boiled corn mash to which fat is added in order to facilitate ingestion. This diet results in a large quantity of fat accumulating in the liver, which, as a result, takes on a buttery consistency and a yellowish color. Ducks are fed twice per day, and geese are fed up to four times per day. If an auger is used, each feeding lasts from 45 to 60 seconds. But if the more modern pneumatic pumps are used, each feeding lasts about three seconds. Use of the pneumatic pump requires making a small incision in the animal’s esophagus into which the feeding device is inserted for each feeding. According to foie gras farmers, special efforts are made so as not to damage the animals during feedings, but several studies have shown that birds oftentimes develop inflammation of the walls of the proventriculus after gavage, and records show an overall marked increase in mortality rates during the force-feeding stages of foie gras production.

Again, in order to meet the French definition of “foie gras,” the birds must be force-fed; but other nations allow the birds to achieve the fattened-liver condition by eating freely, ad libitum, to their hearts’—even if not to their livers’—content. Some purists, however—especially French ones—are convinced that this method does not produce satisfactory results. Outside France, livers fattened by such alternative methods are variably labeled “fatty goose liver,” “ethical foie gras,” “humane foie gras,” or even “foie gras.”

Another method—the manipulation of the bird’s hypothalamus—produces a liver more akin to that achieved by gavage. The hypothalamus is the portion of the brain that controls several basic drives in animals: hunger, thirst, sleep, and sex, for example. And some farmers have developed a procedure to surgically generate a lesion on the ventromedian section of the hypothalamus—a ventromedian hypothalamic (VMH) lesion—which impedes satiety, thereby causing the birds to overeat if food is readily available. The result is that such birds eat approximately twice the amount they would normally eat, fattening themselves—and their livers—in the process.

The Regulation of Foie Gras

Several nations and jurisdictions around the world prohibit the production of foie gras. However, very few places, if any, make illegal the purchase or possession of foie gras. Consequently, foie gras, despite the controversial manner in which it is oftentimes produced, is usually available around the world on menus featuring fine French cuisine. Various animal rights organizations engage in public relations campaigns to educate the public about gavage; but for many people, like the connoisseurs of veal, the the end justifies the means. And in France, pursuant to French law, “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” Therefore, many French and French-influenced cultures, as well as Francophiles the world over, view traditional foie gras as their birthright.

But as culturally justifiable, luxurious, and delicious as foie gras may be, a gentleman, in his capacity as caretaker of the planet, must consider the manner in which foie gras is traditionally made, making every reasonable effort to patronize the establishments that uphold ethical production standards. Every creature, including those consumed by mankind, is deserving of humanity.

Various Culinary Traditions of Foie Gras

In France, on the market, foie gras exists in various presentations, each legally defined and priced from more expensive to less expensive. “Foie gras entier” (whole foie gras) is made of two, whole liver lobes, whether cooked (“cuit”), semi-cooked (“mi-cuit”), or uncooked (“frais”). There is also “foie gras,” which is made of portions of liver, reassembled together. “Bloc de foie gras” is a fully cooked, molded block consisting of at least 98% foie gras; but if labeled “bloc de foie gras avec morceau” (“with pieces”), it must contain at least 50% foie gras in the case of goose foie gras, and at least 30% in the case of duck. There are also “pâté de foie gras” and “mousse de foie gras,” both of which must contain at least 50% foie gras, while “parfait de foie gras” must contain at least 75% foie gras. There is also a multitude of other preparations that do not have legally defined criteria. Cooked foie gras is usually sold in glass or metal containers, thereby enhancing its longevity.