The fanny pack, the book bag, the velcro arm band. Women stuff money in their bras, credit cards in their socks, cell phones in the waistband on their sweats. What’s a woman need to do to get a decent pocket around here? For years, ladies and clothing manufacturers have struggled to come up with a comfortable way for women to transport their belongings, while men jackets come with about five different compartments for concealing anything from money to a flask to a weapon. What gives? If you’ve ever wondered why women can achieve the right to vote, but can’t find a pocket on their jeans, here are some of the weird histories behind pockets.
The seventeenth century’s equivalent of the woman’s purse was far from ideal. While men had the luxury of pockets sewn into their garments, women were left to wrap a sack with a string around their wastes and tuck it under her gown, and petticoat, making it extremely hard to access, and not very flattering.
Enter the hip pouch. This device consisted of two sack-like patches attached by strings which could be wrapped around a woman’s waist over her clothes, apron like, acting as two makeshift hanging pockets. These were often elaborately embroidered and could hold anything from cakes to jewelry.
Styles changed in the nineteenth century when the voluminous dress silhouettes were slimmed down into a more Grecian inspired look, leaving no room for pockets. Says Elizabeth Morano, a professor at Parsons School of Design, “Think of the neoclassical dress. It’s straight up and down. The line of the clothes changes completely.”
Enter the purse. The reticule, as it was called was a tiny bag that women carried in their hands. As time went on, these accessories began to become more elegant, and eventually became status symbols, but served no purpose, since they were too small to carry money and most of the money handling was left to the men. Large reticules were frowned upon, as they were considered symbols of working women. Fashion historian Barbara Burman says, “The frustrations and limitations of women’s access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pocket.”
The early 20th century brought the woman’s trouser and with it more complications. While women now had a pocket-friendly clothing item, apparently pockets weren’t friendly to the female silhouette.
So even if the trousers did have pockets, chances were they were so small as to be barely functional. According to a 1954 quote from Christian Dior, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”
The 70’s brought a small wave of relief when menswear inspired pieces came into vogue, with baggy clothes, such as modeled by Diane Keaton as Annie Hall, coming into vogue. However, when the 90’s borough a rise of designer hand bags, we were back to square one, plus low rise pants didn’t help matters much.
And now we arrive at the present. Big pockets have been popping up on big dresses on red carpets, but we have yet to see skinny jeans capable of handling an iPhone. What can we do and how much longer must we sacrifice for fashion?
If you have any ideas about a solution to the pocket problem, you may want to get a patent. Let us know your thoughts.