In the not-so-distant past, handkerchiefs were essential to every woman's wardrobe, so there is a huge supply of vintage designs available today. At one time they were so common, you could pick them up at highway gift shops while traveling if you forgot your supply - complete with novelty boxes labeled "Handkerchiefs" in fancy script.

Some are tiny cloth works of art, decorated with embroidered laces, crochet borders or applique. Many have scalloped edges and are printed with florals, like sprays of violets or roses. You can build a quick stock just by visiting local thrift shops and garage sales.Just what can you do with handkerchiefs? You could take a cue from old movie actresses and drop a perfumed one on a darkened dance floor. Or, on a more practical note, wear one to tie back your hair "I Love Lucy" style. Simpler still, just tuck one in your vest pocket - maybe not an original idea but one that's overdue for a revival.

The handkerchief's small size lends itself to all sorts of novelty uses. For instance, you could create a shoebox children's theater using handkerchiefs as curtains. Or set a tea table with handkerchiefs as place mats. For a special occasion, pin a jewelry keepsake to a tiny linen one presented on a dessert plate. The next time you're going on a picnic, stash handkerchiefs in your hamper to use as retro napkins.

Decorating with handkerchiefs is another possibility. Use them as curtain tiebacks or fold them over curtain rods on a diagonal so that they hang in pennant-like triangles. Sew handkerchiefs together to make a pillow-case for a window seat or a cushion for a desk chair. I've also seen them stitched together to form an airy bed canopy.

You know how you're always hearing about the good old days, when you could buy a particularly expensive collectible for next to nothing? Well, there might be some handkerchiefs that are expensive - for instance, the novelty children's types with Mickey Mouse and Buster Brown themes - but the majority of vintage styles go for just a few dollars at most. So get out your handkerchiefs: They're too pretty to hide in drawers!