"Girl, girls! Have you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?"
"Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers," cried Jo, adding, with a laugh, as they went on, "I do believe Marmee would ask that if we were all running away from an earthquake."
"It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief," replied Meg....
~from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
The handkerchief is yet another relic of western civilization that has fallen into disuse. Crumpled tissues have replaced them, or worse, people wipe their eyes and noses with their fingers. In the case of infectious colds, tissues are more sanitary, but cloth hankies are easier on the nose. They are also easier on the environment. Ironing handkerchiefs is not really necessary, although it is a nice touch. They are easy to wash, just use hot water and a little bleach.
The May/June 2007 issue of Southern Lady Magazine has a lovely article about handkerchiefs by Phyllis Hoffman. Mrs. Hoffman describes how important handkerchiefs were in the days when there was courtship and coquetry:
During the 19th century, handkerchiefs were indispensable. In fact, young ladies and gentlemen actually communicated through hankie gestures since strict rules of propriety prohibited much contact otherwise. If the lady drew the handkerchief across her lips while she looked at a young man, it meant she wanted to meet him. If she placed it upon her cheek, that meant she loved him. Sweeping the cloth across the forehead was the signal that they were being watched! ("Gracious Living with Phyllis Hoffman" Southern Lady Magazine, May/June 2007, no. 3, p. 78)
Handkerchiefs make lovely gifts; they are charming to have at weddings and formal occasions. Children should be taught early on to always have a hankie or a tissue with them, so that they are not going around wiping their noses on their hands and sleeves. It is a small matter, but one that involves healthy self-respect, as well as regard for the sensibilities of others.