In the movies, I always see men giving ladies a handkerchief if they cry, and after they use it, ladies give it back. Isn't it a bit yucky to return a used handkerchief, or was it just a gesture, and women were not really supposed to use them? Thanks! Hex
It does seem rather disgusting to return a used handkerchief that you’ve cried and snotted all over, but of course in the movies the lady will only dab delicately at her eyes and never do anything as unladylike as blowing her nose in it. In any case, according to Etiquette for Everyday (Mrs. Humphry, 1904) the proper thing to do would be to take it home, wash it, and return it at another time. Mrs. Humphry doesn’t address the problem of borrowing a handkerchief from a stranger, but perhaps she is assuming that a lady would never be so indiscriminate.