The history of pockets in women’s clothing!
When I was at school I was in the annual play, I was an orphan in one of my favourite films – Oliver Twist! The teachers must have noticed something really special in me at a young age because I was even trusted with a speaking part. A huge responsibility of a whole 5 word sentence and I vowed to make my parents proud as I rehearsed that sentence every night….. ‘I brought the boy maam’ You can imagine the pressure I was under to remember my lines!
I am sure you are all familiar with Oliver Twist with Fagin and the Artful Dodger famously telling Oliver Twist that ‘you’ve got to pick a pocket or two’. But thinking about it now - if the young street kids had been let loose into a crowd of women, they’d almost certainly have found very thin pickings.
Grab a biscuit, get yourself comfy…we are going on a little history lesson.
In the mid-nineteenth century, when Oliver Twist was set, women simply didn’t have pockets in their clothes. But this wasn’t just a one-off period in history. Ever since the 17th century, women have struggled to keep personal items safe and secure within their clothing. Men have always had the luxury of pockets, but women have been obliged to make use of handbags instead. And as lovely as handbags might be in our modern times, they still have to be physically carried, and watched over. Think about it, Saturday night, gin in hand and a group of women dancing around their handbags at a nightclub - we have all been there! But when have you ever seen a group of men shuffling to the beat around their handbags? Probably not and that is because their keys, their phone, their wallet and who knows what else men carry with them are all tucked up in their pockets of their clothing.
Take a look at any of the popular women’s clothing brands, and the reviews make it clear that women aren’t happy with the current state of affairs regarding pockets in their clothing - or rather, the lack of them. We’ve been demanding that the fashion industry sits up and takes notice for years now, but with unsatisfactory results, for the most part. Do these retailers not see how excited we get when we find a fab dress…..AND IT HAS POCKETS!
For her official presidential nomination ceremony in 2016, Hilary Clinton wore a white trouser suit. Many onlookers thought that this was in honour of the suffragettes, who often dressed in white. But keen-eyed observers were quick to spot that the white outfit lacked any pockets, which was something that the suffragettes themselves simply wouldn’t have had.
In fact, for the suffragettes, the question of pockets was highly political. Their campaigning outfits were designed to include as many pockets as possible, and ‘suffragette suits’ boasted up to eight pockets, all designed to be easily accessible by the wearer. EIGHT pockets! One New York fundraiser for the organisation even featured a red skirt covered in pockets, which formed the basis of a Lucky Dip: attendees were invited to pay to choose a pocket, each of which contained a small gift.
Looking back over the course of history, we discover that women and men used to be treated equally when it came to the question of pockets. During medieval times, ‘pockets’ were small bags that were tied or belted at the waist, making them similar to the modern-day ‘bum bag’. But rising crime levels, and the prevalence of ‘cutpurses’ meant that these detachable pockets were soon worn underneath clothing instead, making it much harder for thieves to access them.
By the late 17th Century, someone had the bright idea of physically attaching these pockets into the seams of men’s clothing. And so the pocket was born! Women, meanwhile, were obliged to keep on using the concealed detachable pocket system, which could be hidden under the voluminous layers of their clothing.
But as fashions changed, the line of women’s dresses became more figure-hugging. Now the detachable pocket could no longer be worn, as it ruined the smooth lines of a lady’s dress. And the problem seems to have been compounded during the French Revolution. Women were discouraged from having any form of pockets, which would enable them to carry around weapons, or ‘seditious material’ which might lead to further trouble on the streets.
By the end of the 18th Century, the London Spectator was urging fashion houses not to include pockets in women’s clothing. After all, by the author’s reasoning, women already had ‘two breasts and two hips’ creating ‘external bulges’, so why create an extra, unwanted bulge? And this was an attitude that hadn’t improved by the middle of the 20th Century, with Christian Dior claiming that “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”
Not surprisingly, women have had plenty to say about this whole pocket malarkey. After all, a man can carry his personal belongings throughout his selection of pockets of his clothes. Passers by are unlikely to even notice whether a man is carrying his wallet, keys, smartphone or personal documents on him. Handbags and shoulder bags, on the other hand, are highly visible at all times. And if a woman is unlucky enough to have her bag snatched, she instantly loses all of her most important possessions in one swoop.
And surprisingly, even where clothing for women does have pockets, they’re often more for show than for any practical purpose. Have you ever had that? Oh look a pocket….only to discover it’s FOR SHOW! Like some weird joke that isn’t even slightly funny. One website, The Pudding, recently conducted a study into the pocket sizes of men’s and women’s jeans. And they discovered that, out of 80 pairs of jeans that were tested, the pockets in the women’s sizes were up to 50% smaller than those for men. In fact, 60% of the pockets in the women’s jeans weren’t even big enough to hold a smartphone. Which means that women have to either leave their phones at home, or must carry a bag with them when they go out, which isn’t always convenient.
If you’ve ever been about to dash out of the house, only to run back in again to pick up your bag, you’ll understand the frustration of not having suitable pockets in your clothing. And here at Popsy, we simply don’t think that’s good enough. That’s why we make sure that our clothes offer pockets which are deep enough to hold all your bits and pieces and you have a choice whether you want to take out a bag or not. In fact – I very rarely take out a handbag with me anymore. If I wear a handbag it is because I want to not because I need to.
I really feel like things are changing! Hey – even the Queen was spotted wearing pockets last year in her recent photoshoot and look how happy she looked!
Who knew there was so much history behind a pocket – but it makes me love them even more and makes me even more proud to include pockets in our dresses!
Empowering women is about making life easier, and more comfortable. And that means not always having to carry a handbag when you’re out and about!
Queen Photo Credit - Hello! Magazine