Once upon a time there were so many fashion rules, but like gloves, and hats – sigh – they have been tossed aside for the most part. For instance, the art of wielding a handkerchief has been largely lost, alas. But I say, don’t cast that handkerchief aside like an old tissue! It is a considerable weapon of mass flirtation in the right woman’s hands.
You’ve all heard of that old cliché of the woman who sends her hanky fluttering to the floor, and has men racing from all directions to catch it before it should be sullied in the dust at her feet? I remember some amusing comics of Veronica having both Archie and Reggie at her feet in just such a fashion. But there is a right way and a wrong way to attempt this technique.
Observe: it doesn’t do to appear too arrogant – even the Princess Bride Buttercup learned eventually to mind her manners. Just imagine if it didn’t work: you’d be left with egg on your face. And then you’d really need the hanky, but it’d be all dirty by then. One must always think ahead.
This is better. Subtlety and nonchalance is key. “Oh did I drop my hanky? I didn’t notice. Thank you kind sir for retrieving it for me. Would I like you to treat me to a drink in yonder bar? Why, that would be lovely!” Heap on the flattery. Men lap that stuff up.
Here is what Anne Fogarty, a New York fashion designer said in 1959:
Handkerchiefs have always been a leading feminine weapon, a widely accepted cliché for attracting attention by fluttering or dropping to the floor … tissues and hankies have a separate function. Tissues for utility; hankies for coquetry.
The kind of hanky you choose says a lot about you too. A spotless little white lace handkerchief must meet with universal approval, while a colourfully printed hanky gives quite a different message. A source from 1894, Enquire Within Upon Everything declares:
There is considerable art in using this accessory of dress and comfort. Avoid extreme patterns, styles and colours. Never be without a handkerchief. Hold it freely in the hand, and do not roll it into a ball. Hold it by the centre, and let the corners form a fanlike expansion. Avoid using it too much. With some persons the habit becomes troublesome and unpleasant.
Tears of course are a world-renowned feminine weapon too, but they must be employed judiciously. If you have not yet done so, consider studying the most effective method of crying. Crocodile tears will not achieve your object. This next illustration depicts incorrect usage of a handkerchief. The effect is comical.
It is far better to adopt a suitably woebegone expression while delicately dabbing at the corners of one’s eyes (with handkerchief fanned attractively). Tips: widen eyes slightly; allow lower lip to tremble; catch breath on a little sob. A gentle sniff or two may be endearing and elicit sympathy from the gruffest stalwart. If you can manage a sparkling tear on the end of your eyelashes, even better. Thus the Delicate Flower catches her man and has her way with him!
Margaret Story, a fashion and etiquette writer stated in 1924: Once in a while we see a little lady with ‘a saucy twinkle in her eye’ from whose tailored suit pocket peeps a dainty little lace handkerchief. It is irresistible because we know she ‘knows better’. This, I confess, has me perplexed. Was this generally considered too manly, or too slovenly in 1924? It is always best to avoid any appearance of vulgarity, so I shall leave this to your discretion.
Next time on the SNAP Flirtation channel: correct techniques for little fingers and twisting men thereon. Stay tuned!
Quotations from A to Z of Style by Amy de la Haye (V&A Publishing, 2011)