Why don’t women have pockets?

Shauna McCrudden

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In 1954, famed fashion designer, Christian Dior is reported to have said: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

It’s a well-known point of contention within female circles – the pocket.

Credit - Jen Collins (Flickr)
Credit – Jen Collins (Flickr)

Every woman knows that when they magically find a piece of clothing that has an actual pocket sewn into the fabric, every other woman they know will hear about it – “You like this dress? You won’t believe this but it has pockets too!”

That’s how rare they are to find and if there are visible pockets, a lot of the time they’re fake! But why is this? Why are they so small or non-existent?

Some make the argument that fashion designers don’t put pockets into their female clothes because they want to sell women handbags. That’s a valid argument to make but it goes back further than that.

According to the Victoria and Albert museum, from the 17th to the 19th century, while men had pockets sewn directly into their clothes, women had small makeshift sacks tied around their waists and hidden way under their petticoats and two layers of undergarments so they couldn’t be seen. For some women, their creativity would spring out and they would embroider their pockets with different designs and create slits in their dresses so they could reach their pocket.

Women's pockets would be hidden under their large dresses - credit to Jim Surkamp (Flickr)
Women’s pockets would be hidden under their large dresses – credit to Jim Surkamp (Flickr)

Unfortunately, as the fashion changed from multiple layers of petticoats and vast amounts of material to slimmed down dresses with high waistlines, there was no more room for pockets strapped to women’s waists as they looked too bulky. This is when small purses were created for women to carry in their hands.

Reticule - credit to redsnake05 (Flickr)
Reticule – credit to redsnake05 (Flickr)

As a reminder: men were still having pockets sewn directly into their garments so no change or struggle for them.

Men’s clothes are designed for practical purposes while women’s clothes are designed to be beautiful.

Camilla Olson, the founder of a functional women’s clothing company, spoke to the Atlantic about the fashion industry’s lack of care for women’s needs.

“I honestly believe the fashion industry is not helping women advance. We [women] know clearly we need pockets to carry technology and I think it’s expected we are going to carry a purse. When we’re working we don’t carry purses around. A pocket is a reasonable thing.”

By the start of the 1920s and 30s, when women started to wear trousers as a style choice, women were choosing pockets on their clothes and were encouraged by feminist movements to sew their own pockets.

In a 1939 edition of American Vogue, they talk about women wearing trousers and how women need to avoid the ‘mannish accessories’ that characterized the ‘early, experimental days’ of trouser-wearing. This refers of course to pockets. Stars of the time popularized wearing male-inspired clothing such as Marlene Dietrich.

Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners (1940) - credit to Classic_Movie_Gals (Flickr)
Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners (1940) – credit to Classic_Movie_Gals (Flickr)

By the late 20th century women wearing male clothes became fashionable again but by the start of the 21st century, skinny jeans came into fashion which means designers now have an excuse to not put pockets into women’s clothing.

The question is: How much longer do we have to live without pockets and how much longer can the fashion industry keep fooling us?

Debbie Baer, the co-founder of new clothing line The Willary, spoke to Mic about how new designers and brands are putting women first.

“I think there’s been a change in women speaking up for what they want. Women are more vocal than ever on what they appreciate and want in clothing, and what they want is pockets. I think it’s a very 21st-century female thing.”

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Shauna McCrudden