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Up Your Sleevie

Years ago I was having lunch with a young man I worked with, at a small eatery on Seventh Avenue in New York. As we waited for our juicy, fatty burgers to arrive, he watched me rummage around in my purse for a tissue, wipe my runny nose, and then stick the tissue up my sleeve. He asked simply “Why do girls put tissues up their sleeves?” Since I had a good fifteen years on him, the term ‘girl’ grated on my nerves. I sarcastically replied, “I don’t know about girls, it’s probably more an old lady thing.” He chivalrously insisted he knew ‘girls’ who did it.

So why do women (or is it just me?) stuff a tissue up their sleeve after one use? Is it habit? Maybe. Is it about not wasting? It could be, the practice does fall under the canopy of conservation and reducing paper waste. Do we do it because we saw our mothers do it?


Technology is responsible for this conundrum. To say nothing of contributing to far more paper waste. Though it is claimed that the Chinese used squares of papers to blow their nose centuries ago. Until facial tissues were invented, the best one could do was to have a clean handkerchief for each day. Ladies also often stored their 'hankies' up their sleeve, or sometimes under their watch, as I witnessed an older woman do in an office in the sixties.

Along came facial tissues, first introduced in 924 by Kimberly-Clark as Kleenex. The tissue was originally invented as a means to remove cold cream. Early ads linked Kleenex to Hollywood makeup departments and sometimes included endorsements from movie stars (Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow) who used Kleenex to remove their theatrical makeup with cold cream. Customers started to use Kleenex as a disposable handkerchief. A reader review in 1926 by a newspaper in Peoria, Illinois found that 60% of the users used it for blowing their nose. The other 40% used it for various reasons, including napkins and toilet paper.

By the way, I’ve never seen a man stuff a tissue up his sleeve. Frankly, I’ve rarely seen a man even use a tissue, not including a head cold when a man may lie around the house throwing tissues on the floor or any available surface, or in desperation, actually stuff a bit of tissue up his nose for temporary respite (c’mon, we’ve all done that at least once in our lives.) Do their noses not drip? Do they sniff and swallow? I’ve seen that ‘close one nostril and snort the other one out’ in the gutter a few times in NYC and some men may carry a handkerchief, but I don’t know many.

Surprisingly, this topic has been covered many times before, as my brief research uncovered. Imagine! So many great minds meandering about tissues up their sleevies! Like many things in life, I have no answers, but lots of questions. I will continue to put tissues up my sleeve because it's handy, and it's a habit. This gets more challenging in the summertime, but ladies, there’s always the casual, stuff it in the top of your bra technique.

Maybe next blog – hankies…

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