Historically, white handkerchiefs have been used in place of a white flag to indicate surrender or a flag of truce.
The Kleenex company hadn't initially imagined that people would want a disposable handkerchief, so they initially marketed their product exclusively as a make-up removal tool. It was only later after they discovered that people were blowing their noses into the tissue that they began marketing it for this purpose.
A bandana is a larger type of handkerchief often printed in a vibrant color and with a paisley pattern. Bandanas are most often used to hold hair back, as a fashionable head accessory, or to identify gang affiliation. In Canada and the US, for instance, the Crips gang members use blue handkerchiefs, and their rivals, the Bloods, use red.
When used as an accessory to a suit, a handkerchief is known as a pocket square. There are a wide variety of ways to fold a pocket square, ranging from the austere to the flamboyant:
In the United Kingdom at least, the handkerchief has become something of a comedy item. In particular, the British phenomenon of wearing a handkerchief with tied corners on one's head at the beach has become a seaside postcard stereotype. Another source of comedy is found when a more expensive or important item is mistaken for a handkerchief, for example a tie or a pair of curtains. Other occurrences are formed from the comedic potential of a loud sneeze and subsequent nose-blowing;
In Spanish football, it is a common sight to see supporters waving white handkerchiefs as an expression of deep emotion, both positive in admiration of an exceptional performance by their team or a particular player (even an opposition player as was experienced by Ronaldinho during a victory for FC Barcelona over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, in which Madrid fans openly applauded his performance), or more commonly negatively in disgust at an especially bad performance by their team.
In some movies and television programs, it is used as an agent to hold a few drops of chloroform to hold over a victim's mouth and nose to render them unconscious.
The Handkerchiefs were a band in Seattle's underground music scene in the late 1970's.