Sunday, November 3, 2013

"A cat determined not to be found

can fold itself up like a pocket handkerchief if it wants to." ~ Louis Camuti 

I am unpacking some purchases from last summer...I know, I know...but life gets busy once I don my "professor clothes"!
 
I found a stash of handkerchiefs and a neat leather souvenir box.
 In today's "Kleenex" world, the cloth handkerchief truly is a vintage find.  Some who are trying to be environmentally conscious are turning to cloth for handkerchiefs and napkins, but I fear that is a serious minority although men still carry the cloth handkerchief.
 A man is thought to have been the first one to use cloth handkerchiefs...King Richard of England who ruled from 1377 to 1399 used square pieces of cloth to write his nose according to surviving documents of his time.  And, of course, Shakespeare was a fan of the handkerchief as evidenced in the plot of Othello.

Some historians believe it originated in China and was first used to shield a person’s  head from the hot sun.  Statues dating as far back as the Chou dynasty (1000 BC) show figures holding decorative pieces of cloth.  Christian tradition links the handkerchief or sudarium to the Shroud of Turn offered by Veronica to Christ.  The Romans waved handkerchiefs in the air at public games, and the drop of a hankie would signal the beginning of the chariot races.  During the middle ages, a knight would tie a lady’s handkerchief to the back of his helmet as a good luck talisman.

In the fifteenth century, European traders returned from China with great numbers of peasants’ headscarves, which Europeans appropriated as fashion accessories.  Renaissance portraits show both men and women holding handkerchiefs embroidered and edged in lace. 
 
Marie Antoinette did not like all the odd sizes of handkerchiefs, and she had hubby Louis XVI declare that all handkerchiefs be square, and none could be larger than his.  Obviously this circle would have been banned in 18th century Paris!
These little pieces of cloth were expensive, and it may be where the bride picked up something borrowed. 
 
The Depression popularized the cloth since it was the only thing most women could afford, and during WWII, they became a fashion statement since the fabrics to make silk stockings, blouses, or hats went to parachutes and uniforms.   Hankies only cost a nickel or a quarter or two.  Manufacturers advertised them...
An interesting research tidbit to the WWII hankies...silk was supposedly banned, but it seems "that many kerchiefs were imprinted with maps of the countryside where bombing missions were carried out.  Should these young men have the misfortune to be shot down, they literally held an escape map in their hands. Hundreds of hankies were printed during both WWI  & WWII for soldiers to carry and/or give as mementos."
 
The birth of Kleenex in the 1920’s was to use as a face towel to remove cold cream, but by the 1930’s Kleenex was touted as the antidote to germs with their slogan “Don’t carry a cold in your pocket.”   Many opted for a disposable alternative. In the mid-1950s, a Little Golden Book featuring Little Lulu, had an astronomical first printing of 2.25 million copies!!! showcasing “Things to make and do with Kleenex tissues featuring Lulu and her magic tricks,”  showing children how to make bunny rabbits and more from tissues.

Busy housewives eagerly embraced the disposable hankie.   It eliminated the school ritual of Show and Blow.  This practice began in the 1800s, when, in the interest of hygiene, children were required to bring a clean handkerchief to school daily.  To assure their offspring appeared spic and span every morning, clever moms devised the two hankie solution – one for show, and one for blow.  Children always had a clean white hankie ready for inspection, while a utilitarian one often made from dress calico was in the other pocket! 

So, today mostly for show...and they are still reasonably priced...and the hankies that had a popular run in the 50s are still around...holidays, Mother's Day, souvenir, children's themes, and the traditional floral prints...




Hopefully, you will not meet Desdemona's fate since Othello placed so much emphasis on the handkerchief he gave here...as she said...
"Sure, there's some wonder in this handkerchief..."   

1 comment:

Just a bed of roses said...

oh how I love how you write, research and make our antique world a more interesting place. I will send my customers over to learn all about hankies and how the kleenex had it's birth.