Give Us Pockets or Give Us Death! The History Behind Pockets in Women’s Clothing

(Image Credit: Jen Doll, The Week)

Okay, death may be a slight exaggeration but seriously, please, give us pockets. 

I swear women’s fashion designers have a severe phobia of pockets. If pockets do appear in clothing designed for women, they are almost always small and completely dysfunctional (you might be able to fit 3 quarters in them). More often than not, women’s clothing does not have pockets. Why? Pockets are extremely practical…you can carry personal belongings on you without having to bring an extra bag or purse. So, why on earth would someone invent clothes that have fake pockets or no pockets at all? Let’s take a quick gander through history so we can see what brought us to this insane pocket-less dystopia we are currently living in. 

Once upon a time, nobody’s clothing had pockets. Hundreds of years ago, people were expected to carry around small pouches that were attached to their waists. Shortly after, pockets began to appear in men’s clothing but were still left out of women’s clothing. This was quite likely because in the 1800’s, women held very little capital and consequently very little power. Having no pockets, or very small pockets, meant women would be unable to carry money or items that they needed to conceal from their husbands. 

In the same patriarchal vain, slim silhouettes were considered fashionable in the 1800’s. Women wore corsets under multiple layers of other clothing, which meant that bulky and functional pockets were completely out of the question. In the late 1800’s, the aptly named Rational Dress Society was established and began to encourage women to dress for comfort instead of appearance. The fight for pockets never gained much traction or attention from fashion designers.

However, for a fleeting moment, women had functional pockets. During World War II, women worked jobs that were typically occupied by men. These jobs were labour intensive, creating a need for useful and practical pockets in their work attire. However, when I said fleeting, I meant fleeting. Fashion once again changed, and trends began to shift back to a slim aesthetic for women. 

So why is women’s clothing still suffering a pocketless life in 2020? Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons, there are some probable culprits. Appearing slim and slim fitting pants are still considered popular in mainstream fashion, so having pockets that you can actually fit things into would ruin the illusion. Others may suggest that having no functional place to keep your belongings on your person forces women to spend more money on purses and handbags, funneling more money into the $2.4 trillion fashion industry. 

How do we get pocket justice moving forward? Is there a glimmer of hope for a pocket utopia for all? Some brands are making the move to incorporate gender-neutral clothing into their collections, which will hopefully in turn produce clothes with useful pockets. In the meantime, I guess all we can do is rejoice every time we find a dress or a pair of pants that have pockets that allow us to fit more than an almond in.

*Disclaimer: The gendering of clothing is weird to begin with. People who do not identify as women enjoy wearing clothing that is designed for women. Let’s make it functional for anyone who wants to wear it!*