The Amazing Handkerchief

Chronicler of Romance, Heroism, History, Fashion and Art through the Ages
Event detail

The ubiquitous handkerchief is with us in large and small moments of life–wrapping a child’s cut finger, catching a bride’s tears of joy, worn over a soldier’s heart into battle. Handkerchiefs date back to the Chou dynasty (1000 BCE) and possibly earlier. Once considered a sign of nobility, they later transitioned into a coveted accessory for both fashion and flirting.

Their size and versatility made handkerchiefs the perfect souvenir. From the Paris Exposition of 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, World War II - handkerchiefs were often the lone adornment a woman could afford, costing between five and fifty cents. Vogue magazine carried ads for “Handkerchief of the Month”. After the war, Balmain, Dior, Rochas, and others continued to feature handkerchiefs as a final touch to their haute couture.

These couriers of history carried images that recorded our progression from steamship to railway to flight, from women’s suffrage to the birth of television, and from children’s nursery rhymes to Shakespearean sonnets. “Hankies” 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. Also, you'll have a chance to win your very own vintage handkerchief in our "Hankie in a Hankie" drawing! (see the Art, Music & Recreation Center reference desk for details)

This private collection has been curated and shared by Ann Mahony, a historian of vintage artifacts and handkerchief collector (over 5,000+ pieces including several over a century old!). Her blogs include and She is a member of the Textile Arts Council, deYoung Museum, The Vintage Fashion Guild, The Costume Society of America and the National Speakers Association. Ann is a handwriting and forgery expert by trade ( and is thus habituated to searching for the obscure and interesting.

Related Program: Handkerchief Heroes

Slide show and discussion with Ann Mahony

Sunday, February 25, 2 PM

Learning Studio, Bridge at the Main, 5th Floor



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