Picking Apart Lady Pockets

Holey Sexism!

let's pick apart ladies pockets

Let’s talk pockets. More specifically, the lack of proper lady pockets. It’s a problem every female from seven to seventy-seven knows too well.

Now that I’m home so much (OK. Now that I’m sheltered at home all the time) sans pocketbook sans tote bag sans grocery bag, I’m constantly searching for something to put my smartphone and my eyeglasses in. Let’s face it, gals. Gal pockets don’t do the job. If we’ve got ‘um, they’re too small or just decorative.

Walking around the house all day, balancing my phone, glasses, Diet Coke, and a laptop is a balancing act that borders on an existential — and environmental — disaster. Carrying my phone in my bra is functional but feels weird. Also, oddly, somehow it always goes off when my hands are full or someone is standing at the front door!

Pockets and Sexism

If there ever was an issue that screamed sexism, it is lady pockets. Men’s pockets are well, manly. They’re big. They’re burly. They are made to carry stuff. Lots of stuff. Big manly stuff. Smartphones. Glasses. Keys. Swiss Army knives. Coins, wallets, and whatnot.

Girl pockets are ridiculous. If you’re lucky, you can fit a tube of lip gloss in them. And at my age, lip gloss is not what I carry. Lip spackling is what I require. And a sturdy dowel to apply it with.

And it’s not just that pockets are small. They’re as rare as a good cut of roast beef. More exasperating, they’re sometimes false. You’re about to buy an outfit, thinking it’s got pockets. So exciting! You try to shimmy your hand inside only to get stopped fingertip in. It lacks function. It is false. A cruel fashion façade.

Size Matters and Ladies are Lacking

If you want a detailed visual comparison illustrating the tyrannical difference between skinny lady pockets and those belonging to gents, feast your eyes on this article in one of my favorite publications, The Pudding.

Sartorial History Smarts

In the beginning … Well, not the Garden of Eden beginning, but at least several centuries ago, when, for a time, all clothing was created equal as far as pockets were concerned: There weren’t any.

Then, in the late 1600s, the guys struck pocket pay-dirt! They got ones sewn directly into their clothing, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

But not so for the ladies. What did our female forebearers get to schlep their goodies around in? Tiny sacks with strings tied around their waists! They weren’t attractive and they weren’t convenient since they were worn under outer garments.

By the late 1700s, the sacks became more elaborate, with embroidery and assorted hand-sewn decorations. And slits in women’s dresses made access easier. Progress of sorts, I suppose.

But, alas, by the early 1800s, fashion dictated slimmer silhouettes for women. So, the sacks were sacked.

Then, the designer gods deemed women’s clothes could feature some pockets, but only small, dainty ones. Still, it really wasn’t just about fashion, say sociologists. It was about sexism and gender politics. The gentle sex didn’t really “need” pockets. They didn’t “need” to carry anything or go anywhere. A woman’s place, after all, was in the home. The menfolk were the ones out and about, carrying on the business of the world.

Outside the home, genteel ladies hand-carried minuscule “reticules” — more status symbols than functional. Now I’m a fan of small bags, but reticules were sort of ridiculous. Meanwhile, large purses of the era were considered decidedly déclassé, as well as symbols of women who worked.

Pocket Equity

The push for pocket equity began in the late 1800s. The Rational Dress Society, founded in 1891, rallied women to dress for comfort and health by shedding tight corsets and wearing comfortable, practical clothes like pants with — drum roll, please — pockets.

But the push and pull between fashion and function made pockets unpopular again at the turn of the 20th Century when slimmer styles came back in vogue.

Then, World Wars I and II brought a new wave of practical wear for women, who were now racking up hours in the factories —and wearing pants, with pockets.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s when women regularly wore pants — especially blue jeans — that females moved a step closer to pocket parity.

Yet, here we are in 2020, struggling to shimmy into our skinny jeans and simultaneously struggling to shimmy our ever-growing-in-girth smartphones into tiny pockets. So, once again, we frustrated gals must cry out for clothes — especially pants — with practical, spacious pockets.

Pandemic Pocket Manifesto

In response, especially in these troubled sheltered at home and therefore not carrying a purse pandemic times, I issue this manifesto to all clothing designers, manufacturers, retailers, and fashion magazine mavens:

Stop this woeful, wanton absence of pockets.
And stop this cruel creating of tiny, token pockets and
the feckless facade of fake pockets.

What do we want?
We the women of the world want real pockets;
Practical pockets;
Roomy pockets.

Where do we want them?
On our jackets. In our hoodies. And in our coats.
But most of all, in our pants. In the front. And in the back.

When do we want them?
Now. Damnit. Now.
The guys have had them since the 1600s.
A five-hundred-year wait is long enough.

Yes, if practical, roomy pockets are good enough for the goose, they’re good enough for the gander and her smartphone. We’re sick of hand-carrying our cell phone (and glasses — reading or sun).

We the women of the world require equity. Right this wrong.

👖 👖 👖

If you want to read more on the subject, check out “The Weird, Complicated, Sexist History of Pockets” and “Why Girls Need Pockets.”

6 replies
  1. Barry Chaim
    Barry Chaim says:

    Do only women read this? I think men should be invited to join.

    Don’t ask me how I found my way to this witty, insightful, liberating (not just for women) site.

    With Euro-centric thinking, Karen has focused on our western way of wearing. The Japanese long ago discovered and designed a unisex approach to carrying things. It is called sleeve pockets. Every Kimono and every yukata have entries into the sleeves that can easily carry a wallet, a cellphone and other things that might normally be in a purse or pocket. They don’t bulge and no-one knows. I even put my small towel in it on my way yo the public bath when I lived in Tokyo. No-one knew where I was going, nor that I had money in my sleeve to stop at the local Izakaya for some sake and a nibble and then stop at the supermarket on my way home. Cool loose and comfortable, I can just imagine the looks I would get walking down Rodeo Drive on my way to…..

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      Barry, welcome to the site! You are not alone. Muddling through Middle Age has many male readers. And thank you so much for these insights into Japanese clothing.

  2. Mary Rees
    Mary Rees says:

    Thank you for this history of pocket inequity, Karen!

    (By the way, I hope you’re not serious about tucking your cellphone into your bra. The constant “check-ins” that your cell phone makes involve bursts of radiation that can be harmful to breast tissue.)

  3. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I like pockets in jackets. But in pants? No. I am trying to look slimmer, and bulging pockets, with only one item in them, adds inches to my stomach and hips. Sorry, but I am still going to carry my backpack.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply