18th Century Patterned Handkerchiefs

Last updated: Nov 25, 2021

Both men and women wore patterned handkerchiefs as neckwear in the 18th century.

Many of these examples were printed, likely onto lightweight cotton or sometimes onto linen or silk, as noted in some runaway descriptions; stripes and checked patterns are more likely to have been yarn-dyed and woven into the textile. Some of the examples with white dots or white circles could have been tie-dyed.

Unlike many of the fancier women's fichus and neckerchiefs, these patterned handkerchiefs are almost certainly just squares, folded into whichever shape is appropriate.

Extant handkerchiefs: Woven stripes, checks, and plaids

  • MFA 51.1992, a handkerchief in deep blue and natural-colored linen in a plaid design, American, 18th century
  • Met 2009.300.5290, linen in blue, brown, and white, American, c. 1750
  • Nederlands Openluchtmuseum HM.2808, red and white cotton with the embroidered initials 'M T' with a heart between, 18th century; this style was common in Hindeloopen, with different folding methods for unmarried and married women
  • MoMu T13/1622, white cotton handkerchief with border stripes in brown, lilac and blue with ikat patterning, 1770-1800
  • MoMu T13/1626, white cotton handkerchief with red-brown stripe border, 1770-1800
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2005-101, neck handkerchief woven from blue, brown, and natural-color linen, America, 1780-1820
  • Plaid and checked handkerchiefs from the Agreeable Tyrant exhibit at the DAR Museum, including “brown plaid linen kerchief, c. 1790, Vermont; … checked blue and white linen kerchief, late 1700s owned by Anna Avery”
  • MFA 44.804, a handwoven handkerchief in plaid wool marked “E.B.,” American, late 18th or early 19th century

Extant handkerchiefs: Prints

  • National Museum of Scotland A.1978.422, British, c. 1730-1770
  • MoMu T12/972/A281, a white cotton handkerchief printed in India with a floral pattern and border, 1750-1800
  • The Fries Museum has several printed handkerchiefs dating around 1770-1800; T1956-436 is linen with a monochrome brown print, but T1956-413, T1956-414, T1956-437, T1956-439, T1956-440, and T1956-441 are cotton.
  • William Cowper’s neck handkerchief
  • MFA 33.669, French, late 18th century; “Cream-colored cotton with border of vermillion stripes, the center printed with reddish violet in a chequer board pattern, a small disc in the center of each square.”
  • Museon Arlaten 2002.28.1, a square handkerchief in printed wool muslin, c. 1785-1815
  • Museon Arlaten 2001.16.10, a cotton handkerchief made in Alsace between 1785 and 1830
  • V&A T.384-1972, a pattern book with “fancy vestings and handkerchief goods” from Maze & Steer of Spitalfields, 1786-1791
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2018-202, a white cotton handkerchief block-printed to shape with a flower-and-leaf border originally purple (now faded to brown), probably made in England and worn in Albany, New York, 1785-1815
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2018-203, handkerchief with sprigs and a floral border, probably made in England and worn in Albany, New York, 1785-1815
  • MoMu AF182, printed cotton handkerchief with floral pattern and border, 1790-1810
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1974-377, woman’s printed cotton handkerchief with floral sprigs and border, America or England, 1795-1810
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1974-376, woman’s printed cotton handkerchief with floral sprigs and border, America or Great Britain, 1795-1825
  • MFA 99.843, probably Scottish, worn in Lexington, Massachusetts, late 18th to early 19th century; “white ground with red, blue, black, and yellow central medallion, which is an eight-pointed stylized flower blossom with petals, bands, berries, and stippling throughout; small red flowers with leaves cover central area; quarter medallions at corners; bands of stylized flower and leaf motifs form inner borders; heavily stippled outer border with bands, petals, and berries similar to medallions; narrow hems at top and bottom with selvedges at sides”
  • MFA 99.845, handkerchief with white ground and printed black grid and black and brown stripe border, Massachusetts, late 18th or early 19th century
  • Centraal Museum 13711, printed silk, c. 1800
  • Winterthur 2009.0011, England or United States, 1790-1810
  • Winterthur 1960.0193, block-printed linen, England or United States, 1795-1805

Extant handkerchiefs: Tie-dye (bandana)


Depictions of men and women wearing patterned handkerchiefs

In many of the hand-colored mezzotints, different colorists choose different color combinations – or even entirely different patterns – on the same kerchiefs in different versions; I've grouped these together for comparison.


Descriptions of patterned handkerchiefs (mostly from runaway ads)