The Politics of Pockets

Photo by Karley Saagi on

Did you know that pockets weren’t always common place in clothing, especially in women’s wear? 

Now I hear you saying “we still don’t get pockets a lot of the time” and I know! But let me tell you a little history about the humble pocket. 

You might not believe it, but the history of pockets is considered to be both sexist and political. Originally there was no such things as pockets. Everyone, men and women alike carried their belongings in a pouch they wore tied around their waist and under their clothes which they could access through small slits. 

It was in the late seventeenth century that men’s wear began to include sewn in pockets. Featured in waistcoats, jackets and trousers. Yet women still needed to carry their belongings in bags or pouches which were neither small nor light as they could carry a multitude of things including money, writing materials, sewing kits, keys, perfume bottles and even snuff boxes. 

When the French Revolution rolled round the full and wide skirts with yards of fabric slimmed down and became more figure hugging. The waistline move up and a slender silhouette was in vogue – this of course meant no room for the pocket-bags but still there were no pockets! So women began carrying small highly decorated bags called reticules. And soon after this came the chatelaines which were decorative chains that held all the necessities on display.  The significance of this might be easily overlooked. A pocket allows someone to carry things privately, whether it be money, personal writing or even simply keys. If you take away pockets, then the ability to travel unaccompanied decreases, and therefore the amount of freedom you have decreases also. 

Christian Dior once summed it up nicely “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” This says to me that for a long time men’s clothing has been designed for functionality, while women’s has been designed merely for aesthetics (which I believe to be so very true!)

So when did women start to see pockets sewn into clothing? 

During the late 1800’s the Rational Dress Society and the Women’s Rights Movements worked together to bring more functionality into women’s clothing – condemning anything that impeded movement or was injuring to health. Small and discreet pockets began to appear again in women’s clothing. Significantly the “suffragette suit” featured as many as 6 pockets!

But it wasn’t until around world war 1 when women started working in roles that had traditionally been held by men that pockets really came into women’s clothing. The circumstances necessitated that women’s fashion become more functional, so many things were adapted from men’s clothing and you can see that as women started wearing trousers and suits. Once the men returned unfortunately women were expected to go back to form fitting and “flattering” clothing – with again little space for pockets.

While we do have pockets today, they are still significantly smaller than our male counter parts pockets- a survey conducted in 2018 suggests they are as much as 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower! Or worse – the pockets are fake! Either way we still have to carry a handbag – and while a handbag might be nice – in the words of Charlotte P Gilman “… a bag is not a pocket.”

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Pockets

  1. Fake pockets should NEVER be included on any item of clothing ever!!!

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