A napkin is an essential component of any dining layout, and so come in a wide variety of colors and designs to ensure flawless co-ordination with your chosen theme. Although disposable napkins are a popular option for everyday meals, cloth is the far more elegant solution, and the difference will be noted by your guests.
Although nowadays any formal or semi-formal dining event will include cloth napkins for the guests, this was not always the case. However, the need for something for guests to wipe their hands on has always been there.
The Home Life of Ancient Greeks explains how they did not use any kind of cutlery, and so needed to wash their hands between courses. For more convenience, they often kept a piece of soft dough at the table on which to clean their fingers. In the Middle Ages, this continued, with bread in place of dough. However, they would also wipe their hands on their clothes, or whatever else was available.
During the Renaissance tablecloths came into common usage and would be used to clean the hands as a communal napkin, resulting in many unsightly stains by the end of the meal. During this time the cloth napkin came into style for the upper classes to use during meals, although it was still very large. Fashionable men, especially in France, would tuck their napkins into their collars, to protect their clothes. Over time, these oversized napkins shrunk into the ones that we know and use today.
In later centuries, forks became more widely used, and this reduced or eliminated the need to clean the hands during a meal. Napkins became more of an aesthetic addition to a table setting than a necessity. Modern cloth napkins are available in any color or pattern you can imagine and are even available in such bold styles as embroidered sequins.