I always carry a white cotton handkerchief in my pocket. I do so with pride, yet to many people this seems strange. The handkerchief has largely become a thing of the past. A vintage tradition which few people use anymore, in preference to their disposable counter parts. Most people are idiots. Most people fail to see a brilliant accessory even when you put it right in front of their nones. We live in a disposable world and if someone needs to blow their nose they use disposable tissues. My objection to this, unless you carry a handbag with you everywhere (and keep tissues in it) tissues won't save you when you are out and about, say hiking or at a concert. You can keep these wasteful tissue at home and at work, but that doesn't help you everywhere else. This article will help convince you that a handkerchief can be a gentleman's best friend, with just as much utility as a Swiss army knife, without the weight.
Why Carry a Handkerchief
A bulky $3 box of tissues lasts some people less than a week before it fills up their entire waste paper basket. A compact $10 pack of twelve hankies may last you years. But this isn't about being economical with money - the better benefit is in thinking environmentally. If anyone queries your handkerchief use as strange, reminding them that hankies are less wasteful is a nice place to start.
But what about the modern ick factor concern? If someone tell you a handkerchief seems icky, remind them that their opinion is the result of an over-protective germa-phobe culture, the same culture bringing us for gluten intolerance and people who die from nuts. A hankie is completely clean (cleaner than your outer clothes) until you blow in it, and the hankie provides ample space to blow many times without overlap. If they are still caught on the ick factor, look at them judgmentally and ask are you a man or not? A man isn't afraid of a little snot or sweat. This is your hankie and your germs, and you are not afraid of your own germs.
I picked up the use of handkerchiefs because my boat building, sailor grandfather, Bruce Barclay, always carried one. My grandfather was a true gentlemen. All his hankies had a wonderful artistic "B" embroidered in one corner. I don't go to that extreme, but by keeping a basic white handkerchief the front pocket of my pants at all times I feel like I am a little bit more of a gentleman too - the handkerchief reminds me. I use the cheap white ones because I recognize something pretty cool. A handkerchief has many uses and the chance to lend it to others is what gives it the most merit. Just make sure it's a clean hankie, and hopefully ironed nicely too (nobody wants a crumpled hankie). If you open a door for a lady, walk on the correct side, and lend her crisp clean handkerchief at the right moment - you might just be seen as one in a million.
Women can easily carry hankies too in their purses, women's hankies can be a decorative form of expression. A handkerchief is not just for blowing your schnoz my friends. A little piece of square fabric in your pocket has other uses, and I'll write some of them down here. I'm not talking "create a sling for a hamster with broken arm", these are (mostly) real uses! Honestly, I think it's nice to have something to wipe off the sweat and dirt off your face.
Notice that many of these uses will destroy your handkerchief, but since each one is under a buck (if you buy the cheap ones) you will not break the bank.
These are not just suggested uses... you can find that elsewhere... these are all applications I've personally used a hankie for, or in a couple of cases, someone I know has used - and I counted that as close enough. ;-)
- Blowing your nose. Yes it's true, this is the most common use! Once it's become a "used" hankie, the only downside is you can't use it for many other things below. If it's a heavy cold you have to work around and fold it to maximize it's use and then put it in the wash at night.
- Sweat rag. It's hot and you're dripping with sweat. In my case I dance a lot, and while a hankie isn't exactly a towel, I can at least wipe my face and hand enough to ask for another dance before eventually I decide to go outside to cool down. :)
- Ear plugs. You'd be surprised how often I do this. Everyone else at a nightclub is going deaf, you simply take your clean handkerchief and tear off two very small strips, scrunch them up, and you have a really effective ear plug. It won't cut out all noise - but enough to save your hearing tomorrow. Now you might think "yes but that looks slightly dorky". You are wrong... it looks *incredibly* dorky if people see what you are doing, or see a piece of material hanging out your ear. I try to do it a little discretely and make sure I roll a really good ball that not too many people notice. I can easily remove the little balls to my pocket as I move towards and away from noise.
- Glasses cleaner. I use my hankie all the time to clean my sunglasses and the screen on my mobile phone, and would work just as well on reading glasses.
- Bandaid. Once again, you need a clean handkerchief, and you will be tearing it about the width of a bandaid. Wrap it around your finger and give it enough pressure to help stop bleeding. It's not a permanent solution, but if nobody has actual bandaids then you'll want something. I personally have never had a nose bleeds, but if you ever get them I feel like a hankie would be an essential to carry at all times.
- Lend it to a friend. I think perhaps the gentleman part of a hankie is you can offer your hankie to another. Just be sure to remind them it's perfectly clean and they can keep it. It might be for a runny nose, a paper-cut, wiping their hands, anything. :)
- Miniature pillow. Sounds crazy right... but have you ever laid back on the ground, or a rock, or a log, and it would be really nice except that nobody likes to rest their head on something hard. Turns out it's only about a square inch of your head contacting the rock, and if you fold your hankie to that size it takes the hardness away. The word pillow might be a little generous, but you can definitely go from painfully uncomfortable to moderately comfortable, and that ain't bad!
- Hankie hat. Remember photos of these in the old days of hankie hats? It was actually really common - you just tie a little knot in each corner and it stays on your head nicely. These hats were great to keep the sun off your head - especially if you're bald, or it was hot and you wanted wet fabric on your head to keep your temperature down. I've never done the hat thing, but my mum demonstrated, and it was a hilarious photo.
- Eye shade. You're laying down under somewhere sunny like a beach. You've forgot your hat and/or sunglasses. Your relaxing nap is ruined. Or is it. Sure you'll look a little silly, but a clean handkerchief folded in half can go over your head and cover your eyes just the right amount to help you relax.
- Napkin. Hands covered in chicken grease and about to enter a meeting. Hankie to the rescue. Or if you really want your man card, use it to wipe away engine grease, then wipe your nose and put it back in your pocket, because you are just that badass.
- Cleaning implement. You just spilled wine on the carpet. You have only seconds to think, you have a white hankie in your pocket. You might also like to soak your hankie in water or put on some detergent to get other stains. Typically in your own house the real stuff (sponges etc) is on hand, but in a pinch a hankie will do the trick for cleaning anything.... spilt jam on the floor, dirty paintbrushes, wine (with some effect), anything.
- Tiny towel. You are soaking wet at a strangers house, and there are no towels... you shake off as much water as you can, but you don't want to get dressed wet. Hankie to the rescue - it won't get you completely dry, but it will get you dry enough. Your hankie will be soaking wet now... you may decide to throw it away instead of put it in your pocket. Also note, it's the perfect size to dry your phone in a rush if you spill or drop it in water.
- String. Sometimes you just need to tie something to another thing. Roll your hankie up perpendicular or diagonal to the edge (if you need it a little longer) and it will be really very strong. How about a hair tie.
- Emergency toilet paper. Yes, I have done this. You're in a restaurant or somewhere dodgy and the toilet paper has expired. Nobody is around to help. My usual trick is to take the empty roll (the cardboard bit) and if you pull the corner it can unravel into a sufficiently large piece of cardboard. Oh sure, it's a little rough on your bum, but it is your only real option to clean yourself. Or is it. Once I found the empty roll didn't unravel, so I knew immediately my option was to sacrifice my hankie. Sound gross. Well obviously I flushed it away, so why would a clean hankie be any different from anything else. It's small enough to flush and it did the trick great. No more hankie though!
- Writing paper. This is one of the only suggestions I've never done to be honest - I always carry a miniature pen in my wallet, and business cards, so I can write on the back if my phone is dead and I need to remember something. But hey - in absence of paper, this hankie would actually work too... you will need a pen though!
- Carry bag. Tie up the four corners and you can carry things like shells or whatever. I've never done it myself, but my mum has a few times.
- Dust mask. Not a bad idea in a pinch. Hopefully you'll never be in a burning building... but if you were...
- Glove. Something dirty you need to pick up? Hankie will save you in a pinch.
Now that you're thinking outside the (tissue) box, what else might you use a hankie for?...
- Door stop. I've been a little bit of a hero before by folding a hankie dense enough to hold open a door (once at the bottom, and once to block the locking mechanism).
- Table leveler. Help stabilize a wobbly table.
Here's a few more, although I haven't honestly done any of these. I like the idea of starting a fire with a hankie though - that's a good one.
- Signal device (bright hankie), tie a splint, water filter, pot holder (keep you from burning), emergency diaper, drink coaster, table mat, fire tender.
And finally a passive use which is not to be undervalued:
- Phone heat insulator. The sad fact is many mobile phones overheat. Some explode, I don't have one of those fortunately, but my Nexus phones get pretty darn hot after use (navigation etc) and to put that in your front pocket against your leg is actually a little painful. To combat that, I fold my hankie into quarters and put it in my right front pocket between my thigh and the phone, and it keeps me protected from the heat - and possible radiation. I've never tried to have kids, time will tell. But I digress, I would actually keep a hankie for this passive use alone, let alone the myriad other ways it can come in handy. :-P
Are you convinced yet? You may not rush out to buy a hankie - forming a new habit can take a little while, unless you just keep it next to your wallet/phone so you always remember. You should, however, now have a new appreciation for hankies. They have been recognized as one of the most useful accessories a man can carry. There's something gentlemanly about offering a clean ironed hankie to a friend, and there is something manly about using it as a rag to wipe the dirt and sweat off your forehead while you do something physical. Tissues are *okay*... if you're a girl with a handbag. Carry a hankie! :)