%%
%% NOTE: This image is from ‘’Aneimo'', a hentai anime.
%% The image is allowed, but the work itself is not allowed per the wiki's content policy.
%% Please do not pothole this work or create a page for it.
[[quoteright:176:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/aneimo-returning_the_handkerchief-4koma.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:176:All there is to it.]]

A common ShipTease device and an occasional form of MeetCute and/or SamaritanRelationshipStarter, a ReturningTheHandkerchief scenario usually plays out according to the following script:

1. Boy A has somehow dirtied/bloodied/soaked himself.

2. Girl B walks by and, seeing Boy A's plight, lends him a handkerchief.

3. The two might talk for a while, but Girl B usually leaves before Boy A has managed to clean himself up.

4. Left with just a dirty/bloody/soaked and borrowed handkerchief, Boy A sets off to clean it and return it to Girl B. [[ContrivedCoincidence Coincidence usually contrives]] to make this as awkward as possible, or Boy A is already incredibly self-conscious about the whole affair, either because '''a.''' Girl B is his crush, or '''b.''' he's [[GenreSavvy aware]] of the trope's romantic implications.

Note that the scenario need not be StrictlyFormula to count as a ReturningTheHandkerchief plot: the core of the trope is that Girl B has lost something, and Boy A has it. The lost item serves to remind Boy A of Girl B and/or encourage him to seek another encounter with her. It is not altogether uncommon for the handkerchief to go entirely unmentioned upon their second meeting; in which case, the handkerchief is a MacGuffin that [[LawOfConservationOfDetail disappears from the story once it is no longer needed]].

For returning the handkerchief to make any sense, it has to be a washable cloth one (and it usually tends to be a fancy, decorated one at that), which is slightly peculiar considering the prevalence of simple paper tissues in modern society -- especially Japan. This might contribute to the fact that the trope is largely [[DiscreditedTrope discredited]] these days; if a literal handkerchief does appear in the story, the setup is likely to be parodied or not played entirely straight.

Western audiences might be more familiar with a similar comedy trope, in which Boy A immediately offers the handkerchief back after being done with his business, and Girl B politely rejects the sopping mess with a "keep it". The two forms likely evolved independently, however, and the classic gag is not this trope. Neither is a gentleman stooping to give back a hankie "accidentally" dropped by a Victorian lady, or a medieval knight being given one as a symbol of TheLadysFavour.
----
!!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder: {{Anime}} and {{Manga}}]]
* The trope image comes from the ''Aneimo'' {{hentai}} anime, which is an example of the handkerchief-as-MacGuffin variant: it isn't seen after that last screenshot, but the encounter quite firmly cements the relationship between the two.
* Occurs in ''LuckyStar'' between Yutaka and Minami. As Minami was the Girl B, this trope was {{inverted}}.
* {{Averted}} in the [[AnachronicOrder chronologically last]] episode of ''TheMelancholyOfHaruhiSuzumiya'', ''Someday in the Rain'': Kyon returns soaking wet from a walk in the rain and Tsuruya cheerfully lends him a handkerchief in passing, but neither of the two think anything of it, and the handkerchief is never mentioned again.
* In ''DNAngel'', Satoshi lends his handkerchief to Daisuke in the first volume; Daisuke gives it back in the second volume during a chapter that begins to explore Satoshi's character more. This is definitely played for the HoYay.
* Inverted, subverted and combined with an IndulgentFantasySegue in ''[[LightNovel/BludgeoningAngelDokuroChan Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro Chan]]''.
* This is how Ikki and Karin meet in ''{{Medabots}}''.
* There's a mutant, and averted, version of this in ''VictorianRomanceEmma''. Realizing that a well-to-do caller on her mistress has genuinely forgotten his gloves, she rushes out to return them. Initially, she fails, but manages to actually do so later. A further mutation of this occurs when she and the man in question begin to start up a friendship, which looks to be very quickly heading for romantic territory when Emma tells him she's always wanted a silk handkerchief for her own. He buys it for her on the spot.
* Done by DoggedNiceGuy Takahara in ''TaishouYakyuuMusume''.
%%* Happens between Usagi and Mamoru in the manga version of ''Manga/SailorMoon''.
* In ''Manga/HekikaiNoAiOn'', Tatsuya starts to weep when he believes he'll never be a "man of high caliber" and Seine gives him a handkerchief. Later, he tries to invoke this trope just to talk to her because she says to him to stay out of her way.
* Occurs in episode 12 of ''RevolutionaryGirlUtena'' between [[LesYay Utena and Anthy]].
* In the ''GachaGacha'' manga by Tamakoshi, this occurs between Clara and Kouhei, although Clara is not the sweet type, the Kouhei got dirtied because she insisted on him fixing her bike.
* Parodied and discussed in ''[[Manga/LoveLab Love Lab]]'', where Maki has embroidered her contact info and a sob story about her grandmother onto a massive handkerchief in hopes of picking up boys.
* Parodied in a ''Manga/FullmetalAlchemist'' OVA, where Sig returns the bear carcass (!) that Izumi drops.
* Genderflipped in ''Anime/{{Pokemon}}''. Ash left Serena with a handkerchief years ago and [[ForgottenFirstMeeting completely forgot about her]]. When she sees him on TV, she starts her own journey to find him and return it. She joins his crew afterwards.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: {{Film}}]]
* In the 2005 ''Film/PrideAndPrejudice'' film, Lydia attempts to do this with the soldiers marching through town but it fails as they don't even notice.
* Desiree Dubarry from ''[[Film/CarryOn Don't Lose Your Head]]'' tried this to get close to Duke de Pommefrites, except he picks it up and throws it away. When she tells him she dropped her hankerchief he refers to it as a smelly old thing.
* The smitten courtiers in ''Film/EverAfter'' try to invoke this trope--when Prince Henry falls into the crowd during badminton, he finds ''dozens'' of handkerchiefs in his clothes, placed there by hopeful young girls.
* In a Czech film ''Kristian'' (1939), an older guy invents yet another variant how to meet ladies in this fashion. He drops his own handkerchief, picks it up and forces it to the lady, insisting she must have dropped it. Sometimes the lady is confused, but the heroine Zuzana insists that it's most definitely not ''her'' handkerchief. At the end of the movie, the guy steps on a handkerchief that really was lost by a woman who this time is more or less of the same age as the older gentleman, and they seem to have a chance to hit it off. He's pleased that his scheme finally worked out, even though a bit differently than he had expected.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: {{Literature}}]]
* Walt Whitman's ''Literature/LeavesOfGrass'' collection has a poem that references the "dropping the handkerchief in hopes of Mr. Hotness noticing it" variant positing that ''Nature itself'' is the Handkerchief that {{God}} has dropped to get our attention.
* In ''Literature/LesMiserables'' Marius finds a handkerchief left behind on the seat where Cosette and Valjean were sitting. He assumes it was Cosette's and makes a point of showing it to her to demonstrate his feelings. However, since the handkerchief was actually Valjean's, she doesn't have any idea what he is going on about.
* Early in ''Literature/TheThreeMusketeers'', D'Artagnan meets Aramis while the latter has his foot on a handkerchief. D'Artagnan picks it up and hands it to Aramis, accidentally revealing Aramis's relationship with a lady and creating an opportunity for a duel.
* In ''Literature/TheLionTheWitchAndTheWardrobe'' the male beaver returns Lucy's hankerchief, which he got from Tumnus, to demonstrate that he can be trusted.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: LiveActionTV]]
* When Richard is forced to impersonate a notorious womanizer with an incredible reputation for being really good in bed in the ''LegendOfTheSeeker'' episode "Princess", he complains about how many women in the Margrave's palace are dropping handkerchiefs in front of him.
* In the SmashMouth music video for their cover of "I'm a Believer", the trope is subverted; the lead singer spends the video chasing after a woman who dropped her keys, only to return them without comment, even when the woman attempts to flirt with him.
* ''TheOffice'' subverts this in the Season 5 episode "Blood Drive"; after lightly flirting with a woman at the blood drive, he finds she left her glove behind. As the people running the blood drive are restricted from giving out personal information, Michael runs a Valentine's Day mixer at the office, advertising the missing glove in an attempt to attract her. But she never comes.
* Subverted hilariously in ''Series/ChicagoPD'' by Lt. Kelly Severide, crossing over from ''Series/ChicagoFire''. Wanting to see Lindsay again but not having a reason once his police business concludes, Severide steals a paperweight from her desk, then shows up at her apartment, claiming it fell into his pocket.
* ''Series/ResshaSentaiTokkyuger'' uses a version of this, where General Schwartz drops a handkerchief of his and Greeta picks it up; she tries to return it but he tells her to keep it since he doesn't want it back. From then on, she's regularly shown clutching the handkerchief as a sign of just how bad she's crushing on him.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Theater]]
* ''Theatre/{{Othello}}'' may be the earliest subversion. Cassio doesn't love Desdemona, but Iago makes sure he finds and returns her handkerchief, so as to frame him for having an affair with her. (It's worth noting that early critics were appalled to see a lighthearted comedy trope used to set up multiple murders, although opinion has softened over the years as critics have become more used to the concept of PlayingWithATrope.)
[[/folder]]

[[folder: VideoGames]]
* In ''VideoGame/{{Ib}}'', if Ib has a high enough relationship with Garry, she can give Garry her handkerchief when he cuts his hand [[spoiler: after burning Mary's portrait]]. This is how you can get the good ending in the games' MultipleEndings [[spoiler: because the handkerchief plays a crucial role in curing Garry and Ib's WistfulAmnesia.]]
* In Metal Gear Solid, the character gives Hal "Otacon" Emmerich her handkerchief, which he later passes on to Solid Snake. [[spoiler:Following Solid Snake's second encounter with Sniper Wolf, where she is fatally wounded, Snake places the handkerchief over Wolf's face after she dies.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Visual Novels]]
* ''AceAttorneyInvestigations'' plays out what would be a StrictlyFormula version of the trope, if not for two exceptions: there are no romantic overtones whatsoever ([[ShipTease maybe]]), and the "handkerchief" is Edgeworth's ''cravat'', which he was still ''wearing'' when [[spoiler: young Kay]] [[CrowningMomentOfFunny blew her nose into it.]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder: WebComics]]
* Played with in Webcomic/TheBugPond. Leodegrance the assassin bug intentionally drops his hankerchief for Kid Katydid to pick up for him. She proceeds to stomp it.
* Parodied as a symptom of the "Love Sim Syndrome" in [[http://www.tsunamichannel.com/index.php?date=2003-04-23&comic=ExCoKo this]] ''TsunamiChannel'' strip.
* ''{{Homestuck}}'': Rose's Mom loses her pink scarf in a [[ItMakesSenseInContext meteor crash]]. John's Dad picks it up. After they were both transported to the Medium along with their respective children thirteen years later, he returns it. Romance ensues.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: WesternAnimation]]
* In ''WesternAnimation/BarbieAndTheDiamondCastle'', Jeremy and Ian find Liana's handkerchief after she and Alexa spurn their advances, and they use it as an excuse to follow after the girls.
* An old ''BugsBunny'' short has him advise his victim to start courting. He then dresses up as a woman, drops his handkerchief, and promptly freaks out (in his female persona, as if the guy had done something lewd) when the guy returns it.
[[/folder]]
----