How to Flirt With a Handkerchief, 1877

painting of woman gazing coyly and holding handkerchief “I hate you”?
George P. A. Healy, Euphemia White Van Rensselaer (1842)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

The handkerchief, among lovers, is used in a different manner than its legitimate purpose. The most delicate hints can be given without danger of misunderstanding, and in “flirtations” it becomes a most useful instrument… The following rules are the law on the subject:

Drawing it across the lips – Desiring an acquaintance

Drawing it across the cheek – I love you

Drawing it across the forehead – Look, we are watched

Drawing it through the hands – I hate you

Dropping it – We will be friends

Folding it – I wish to speak with you

Letting it rest on the right cheek – Yes

Letting it rest on the left cheek – No

Letting it remain on the eyes – You are so cruel

Opposite corners in both hands – Do wait for me

Over the shoulder – Follow me

Placing it over the right ear – How you have changed

Putting it in the pocket – No more love at present

Daniel R. Shafer, Secrets of Life Unveiled

It would be pretty easy to confuse “I hate you” with “Do wait for me,” and your lover will be heartbroken if you ever have to blow your nose, but still: the time has come to apply this system to bar napkins.