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The Amazing Handkerchief: Chronicler of Romance, Heroism, History, Fashion and Art through the Ages


The Amazing Handkerchief: Chronicler of Romance, Heroism, History, Fashion and Art through the Ages with Ann Mahony

Saturday, April 18, 2015 10 am, Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum

Ah, the ubiquitous handkerchief. It’s been with us in both the large and small moments of life–wrapping a child’s cut finger, catching a bride’s tears of joy, being carried by a soldier into battle. Their history as a wardrobe accessory has been found in statues dating to the Chou dynasty (1000 BC) and possibly earlier. Considered a sign of nobility, they are found in Renaissance portraits, heavily embroidered in gold and edged with lace; while in Persia handkerchiefs were reserved for kings. In France, Louis XVI issued a decree in 1785 prohibiting anyone from carrying a handkerchief larger than his! An entire language of handkerchief flirting developed and lasted well into Victorian times.

Their size and versatility made handkerchiefs the perfect souvenir. From the Paris Exposition in 1900, to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, handkerchiefs carried images of architecture, amusements, and adventures to share and remember. Many were saved and passed to future generations, along with the stories and memories they carried.

In times of sacrifice (the great depression, WWII) a handkerchief often served as the lone fashion adornment a woman could afford ($.05 -.50). Vogue magazine carried ads for a Handkerchief of the Month. After the war, Balmain, Dior, Rochas, and others continued to feature handkerchiefs as a final touch to their haute couture.

Handkerchiefs became custodians and couriers of history, recording our progression from railroad, to steamship, to air travel; from the birth of television to women’s right to vote; and from Shakespearean sonnets to children’s nursery rhymes. “Hankies” were the Pinterest of their day, and chronicled adventure, travel, romance, history, politics, sports, and more, with style, wit, and enchanting graphics. Come discover the stories hidden in their evanescent folds; your mind will engage and your heart will connect with these heroes of history.

Ann Mahony, collector and historian of vintage artifacts, is a Court Qualified, Board Certified Handwriting and Forgery expert by trade, and thus habituated to searching for the obscure and interesting. You can find her blogs at and


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