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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Flurry Of Digitally Printed Pocket Squares With A Machine Hem - Buyers Beware

Dear Readers,

Today I was in David Jones Market Street in Sydney as well as a variety of other menswear retailers in the city and I was somewhat upset by the overwhelming amount of pocket squares that were on display as part of every fashion brands push to join the foray. Some of these pocket squares, one by a reputable brand out of the UK, were made from digitally printed silk with machine rolled hems and attracted a price tag of $109.00 AUD. Now, whilst I don't want to throw too much bad light on digitally printed silks, because there are some applications where there is no added benefit of having a screen print (eg: a silk tie where you cannot see the underside of the fabric), one exception is pocket squares.

Pocket squares should ideally be made by traditional screening through a dye and discharge methodology OR else they should be woven on a loom OR else they will be hand-painted. They should also be hand stitched on the hem with a roll stitch finish. The reason why they are done like this is because a) there is very little difference as you fold the square into the pocket between the top side of the fabric and the underside of the fabric and b) the hand roll stitching is that fineness of detail which one would entertain on the details of an accoutrement such as a pocket square. We may not always be able to afford to have our suits all hand stitched, but our pocket squares, well, we can afford this luxury.

Why is there ghosting on the underside of a digitally printed square? The simple generic answer is in the technique. Generally, printing means that pigment bonds to the fabric, whereas when we dye and discharge we are chemically bonding the pigment to the fibre instead of having the pigment sit on top of the fibre. This is the key difference and it creates a very different 'handle' when you touch the fabric. On dye discharge you will not feel the difference in your hand, in digitally printed silks, there is, often, a small but perceptible difference in handle.

Whilst I am not saying that digital pocket squares are bad, I am saying that they are not a premium product because in many instances they reveal a ghosted underside. The positive flip side of a digitally printed pocket square is that you can print any digital image onto the fabric. So, for designers, this is a much faster/easier/more accurate way to translate their work into a realisation. A screen printing process requires you to a) make screens (up to $175.00 per screen) which is a finiky but rewarding process b) dye the ground of the fabric and c) manually print each square. This is a very different process than pressing PRINT and watching the silk come out the other side. It is labour intensive, far more tedious and there is more waste of textiles. BUT, when a screen printed square that is hand-rolled correctly comes out properly, well, there is no comparison. It is the difference between driving a ratty tatty small car and driving a large saloon.

If you are buying pocket squares then I recommend the following materials:

1. SILK Twill
2. Cashmere And Silk
3. Wool And Silk
4. Woven Silk
5. Silk Habotai (sometimes ideal for lighter prints and black tie)
6. High thread count cotton


1. Polyester
2. Rayon
3. Viscose
4. Blends of man-made and natural fibres

So, I want to reward those stores I know in Sydney that stock the real thing and you will almost invariably have to ask the store to show you them because often even the high end stores will have some digital squares amongst the 'analogues'. Here is a list of stores I trust:

1. Hermes - 135 Elizabeth Street Sydney - +612 9287 3200
2. Harrolds Menswear - Westfields Centrepoint - +612 9232 8399
3. The Strand Hatters - The Strand Arcade - +612 9231 6884
4. Henry Bucks (stocking Drakes and Penrose) - +612 9232 4255

If you are going into the city to purchase a pocket square then ask the staff how it was made. If they can't answer you succinctly with what material was used, what print method was used and how it was stitched then I suggest you don't purchase it from that store.

My most prized pocket square, a red silk twill with electric blue polka dots, dye and discharged with hand-rolled edges circa 2007 from Charvet in Paris.  To this day the silk still holds its body, sheen and colour. Pocket squares like these are being replaced by lesser companies with digitally printed machine hemmed versions.

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