Brides Wedding Accessories - Handkerchief

hanky 1Childhood memories of mums spitting on handkerchiefs to wipe grimy or sticky faces with cries of ‘ewwwwwww’ Muuuuuum and then the wiping with the back of our hands to erase wet spit from mouths is probably etched somewhere deep in most of our minds. 

Television adverts telling us that ‘cough and sneezes catch diseases so trap them in your handkerchief’ and mums tucking a clean hankie into the elastic of little girls knickers and boys blazer pockets. Domestic science and being taught how to iron a handkerchief without taking it off the ironing board are more childhood memories of handkerchiefs.

Disposable Wedding Handkerchief

Paper tissues seem to have taken the place of the pocket handkerchief in this modern throw away era and packets of tissues can be found in almost every woman’s handbag or tucked away in the glove compartment of our car.

Today’s bride will not be far away from a handkerchief, be it paper, lace or linen. Whether it’s with her chief bridesmaid or tucked down her own cleavage, in her handbag or pinned between the folds of her wedding dress.

Although paper tissues are handy and disposable there is nothing that can match the elegance and sophistication of a white crisp lace handkerchief. 

Victorian ladies took pride in their handkerchiefs and spent many hours sitting by the fireside or in the shade of the garden producing the fine and delicate pieces of silk, linen, ribbons, lace and bows into works of art that are now highly collectable.

History of Handkerchiefs

hanky 3Pieces of cloth have been used for thousands of years as a protection against infectious diseases and bad weather, to soak up perspiration and to veil faces. It was usually the members of the ruling and social classes that could afford the preferred fabric of linen while the poorer classes used bits of sacking.

Roman robes did not have pockets and so linen cloths were carried within the folds of the men’s togas and women’s dresses.  This it is believed is where the custom of tucking a hankie in bra’s and knickers began.

Handkerchiefs were used to greet high ranking persons by waving them and it was during the reign of Henry II that more expensive fabrics were adorned with embroidery to become objects of great luxury only affordable by the rich.

‘Couverchefs’ were worn over the heads of women and presented to a chosen knight as a favour.

The cloth handkerchief became more elaborate with the introduction of fine lace from the Orient and used by high ranking ladies to draw attention to the beauty of their hands.

Handkerchiefs came in many forms from round, triangular to square or oblong and it was an observation made by Marie-Antoinette that the squared form would be more pleasing and convenient and because of this a decree was ordered by Louis XVI that the length of handkerchiefs produced in his kingdom was to equal their width. 

Young people throughout history have because of being carefully chaperoned evolved many forms of systems and it became customary to use handkerchiefs to carry out conversations between couples that were closely watched.

The system of signals of handkerchiefs:

  • Handkerchief being drawn across a ladies lip implied she was ready to make his acquaintance.
  • Drawn across the forehead said ‘we are being watched’.
  • Thrown over the shoulder said ‘follow me’.
  • Held to the left cheek meant ‘no’.
  • Held to the right cheek meant ‘yes’.
  • Drawing her handkerchief across her cheek meant ‘I love you’.

Handkerchiefs are traditionally associated with love and the pocket handkerchief was created purely as a symbol of beauty and status.  Many old rituals surround the carrying of a handkerchief by brides and grooms, such as:

  • Wedding monograms arose from ladies embroidering initials of her Christian name in the corner of her handkerchief and for her husband to be she would stitch his surname onto his handkerchief.
  • In Belgium a handkerchief with the brides name embroidered on used during the wedding is then put on display in the bride’s parents home afterwards.  All the females’ within the household have their handkerchiefs displayed after weddings.
  • In early days farmers considered a bride’s wedding tears were lucky and would bring rain for their crops. 
  • A crying bride meant that she would never shed another tear about her marriage.
  • A traditional Irish bride will carry a ‘magic’ handkerchief either up in their sleeves, under their veils or worn on the wedding dress.  This special handkerchief holds the belief of the bride becoming a mother in the future and with a few stitches will be transformed into a baby’s bonnet.  If the first born is a girl she will keep it until she herself marries. The bonnet will have the stitches removed and turned back into a handkerchief for her wedding day making this a marriage tradition for generations to come.

Other Uses for Handkerchiefs after the Wedding

  • Placed within a photo frame.
  • Sewn into a pillow.
  • Placed under the glass on your dressing table.
  • Include inside sympathy, get well or congratulations card.
  • Make into a baby’s bonnet or sewn into a daughters dress.

A handkerchief can be a precious addition to your wedding ensemble and bring a touch of regal and romantic meaning to your special day.