Pockets are essential in our daily lives. Aren’t they? They are practical: we put our smartphones, wallets, keys, and many other things in our small, yet assuring pockets.
As a woman, every time I buy a pair of jeans, pants, or a skirt I check if the pockets are actually hollow or just sewn in shape. This does not seem uncommon, and I largely doubt that I am the only one. As a girl who shops for her own clothes, I have seen many fake pockets in women's clothing.
I have also come to notice that only a few pieces in men’s collections have non-functional pockets. The disparity in pockets is not limited to whether they exist; the size difference is real. There seems to be a significant difference between the size of a women’s pocket and a men’s pocket (See “Figure 1 ”). Thinking about this specific hardship, I wonder why designers have decided that women do not deserve pockets. Why do we have pockets that we can not put anything in? It does not make any sense to have non-functional ones.
This issue might seem a simple one, but it is not. The underlying issue delves into politics and the overall misogyny that envelops society. The thing we call a “pocket” has significant importance in feminist history. The pocket is a symbol of women’s independence and freedom. This may come off as a surprise but women had put upon a tough fight to gain pockets. Here is the true history behind pockets on women’s clothing.
[Before we dig deeper into the topic though, I want to clarify that I do believe that clothing has no gender. Anybody can wear what they want. Unfortunately, the fashion industry currently holds up a binary scheme. The industry is, for the larger part, based on having two genders in society. As a result, in this article, the foremost purpose is to point out the sexist issue that “women’s clothing” has.]
The History of Pockets
Pockets were first introduced in the 17th century. Before the invention of the pocket, in the Middle Ages, people used a pouch slung from a rope like a belt to store daily items (See “Middle Ages-Pouch”). Both men and women would use the pouch in their daily lives; due to this, one might say that Middle Ages was the closest we were to having equality in pockets, and genders in general.
However, with the invention of the pocket, the inequality between men's and women’s clothing began. With men’s clothing having sewn on pockets, they were more accessible and private. On the other hand, women had to rely on “having separate pockets that sat underneath their petticoats” which means unless they undress, they can not reach what they had in their pockets (VERVE Team). Pockets were not accessible for women. As a result, while in public, they could not simply carry what they needed (VERVE Team).
In the late 1700s, women’s fashion started to change; most notably, in the 1790s. Figure-hugging dresses were in favor (See “Figure-hugging dress”). There was not that much desire to make women’s body figures bigger. That’s why the pockets underneath the petticoat had to disappear, but a replacement was needed. And there was the savior: the reticule.
A reticule is a small night bag used in the late 1700s and the early 1800s. Although they were invented to replace pockets, reticules still had a problem. They were not properly functional. A woman could only fit a coin in her reticule. Perhaps these circumstances may come off as simple, however, this was the patriarchy at play on the smallest scale. At the time, women did not have access to money or property. Women had to sit at home, obey their husbands, bake cakes, and look after their children. So, why would they need a functional bag/pocket, right?
In the 19th and 20th centuries, women started to rebel. They wanted to gain access to something as simple as a pocket. There were many campaigns, and a few were led by the Rational Dress Society. These rebellions, very surprisingly, worked in the midst of the World War. Since women had different important roles in both military and the war, they needed more practical clothing; and large pants with pockets were the solution (National WW2 Museum). Unfortunately, large pants with pockets did not last very long. After the war, the patriarchy expected to see femininity from women.
And today, the size of the women’s pocket has once again started getting smaller. Clothing has become tighter and slimmer just to please men and what they deem ideal and pleasurable.
Throughout this article, we delved into the sexist history of pockets as well as the toxic patriarchy. This issue is not something that casually pops into one’s mind. It seems like such a basic problem, one that is not worth raising our voice for. If a “basic problem” has lasted for years, though, how will we overcome the rule that men should have power over women? So I ask you, don’t women deserve to have a big enough pocket on their clothing?
Chelseagsummers. "The Politics of Pockets." Vox, 16 Sept. 2016, www.vox.com/2016/9/19/12865560/politics-of-pockets-suffragettes-women. Accessed 28 July 2022.
Figure-hugging dress. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1790-1799/. Accessed 28 July 2022.
Figure 1. www.core77.com/posts/79323/Womens-Pockets-Really-Suck. Accessed 31 July 2022.
Middle Ages- Pouch. www.pinterest.com/whilja/extant-pouches-and-bags/. Accessed 28 July 2022.
National WW2 Museum. www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/women-wwii. Accessed 31 July 2022.
VERVE Team. "The Bewildering and Sexist History of Women's Pockets."
, medium.com/verve-up/the-bewildering-and-sexist-history-of-womens-pockets-1edf3a98117. Accessed 28 July 2022.