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Orange checked hankieOf all the things that have gone out of fashion, I have to scratch my head in wonder over the humble handkerchief. Why, when they are so practical and eco-friendly, haven’t they returned to popularity?

Their demise began with a Kleenex ad campaign in the 1920s, “Don’t carry around a cold in your pocket.” Kleenex tissues were originally marketed as a facial tissue to remove cold cream, but that campaign helped them gain favor as a disposable hankie.

If you consider the gross-out factor many women still have at the suggestion of a hankie, it’s not hard to understand how readily we gave up the custom. And yet they have such a long and storied place in civilization. Check out my link to tidbits of hankie history.

Here are eight good uses for hankies

1) Blow your nose—obvious, I know. But there’s nothing kinder to the face than a soft batiste or linen hankie. If you’re squeamish about the idea, remember: you can and should change a hankie like you change your underwear. As the old saying goes, “Carry one for show, and one for blow.” That way, you’ve always got a fresh one for Reason #2.
2) Offer one to someone when they cry. Surely you’ve seen this scene in old movies: a chivalrous gentleman offers his hankie to distraught lady. There’s nothing more compassionate than assisting someone with a good cry and helping them feel graceful at a moment of vulnerability. Tissue will do, but a fresh hankie ups the ante. Have a plentiful supply of hankies at all times so you can pass yours as a gift. Two-fold rationale: People feel a little awkward about returning a moist hankie and they will always remember the shared experience.
3) Give hankies as remembrances to friends in mourning. For the past several years, I have saved my choicest vintage hankies for friends who have lost a parent. I hope it signifies my sincere empathy for one of life’s most profound losses.
4) Give them to brides and bridesmaids. Hankies are all about tradition and what could be more traditional than a wedding? Even for tears of joy, every woman should have a frilly hankie stowed away in her purse or sleeve.
5) Clean your glasses. Okay, I know that there are micro-clothes for that, but I never manage to keep them the way I do a hankie.
6) Save the planet. An estimated 3,000 tons of tissue and paper are deposited in U.S. landfills every day. It takes something like 17 trees to make one ton of paper products. If everyone quit using tissues, imagine the difference we could make in the environment.
7) Avoid lint and messes. I wish I could count the number of times I’ve forgotten to check my pockets for Kleenex before doing the laundry. Stop using tissue and your only surprise when doing the laundry will be a pleasant one—finding a favorite hankie that’s gone missing.
8) Dry your hands. When I go on long trips, I sometimes pack my purse with extra hankies so I can dry my hands without using paper towels or blow dryers in public restrooms. They can double for opening doors in public spaces during flu season. Keep personal hankies separate from hand hankies by carrying fabric pouches or plastic sandwich bags where you can store them.

How do you feel about using a hankie? Any clever ideas for them that I haven’t mentioned? Visit my Etsy store where you’ll find a small inventory of vintage handkerchiefs for sale. Coming soon: monogrammed handkerchiefs with a vintage flair. I made the one in the photograph above from some leftover fabric.