what I love about buying clothes is how nothing ever fits! wait hang on, what I love about buying clothes is the expense and inconvenience! uh, no, what I love about buying clothes is the crappy materials and shoddy workmanship!
look I’ll come in again and start over
[insert discourse about pockets]
…there’s discourse about pockets? How? Are there people who are against pockets? Are pockets problematic?
pockets, aphobic and possibly terfy??
Noooooooooooooooooo I thought I was safe here!
You fools, what have you started?
(I’m not joking or exaggerating, it was pockets on dog sweaters that made me angry enough to become an Internet Feminist)
So the thing is that pockets used to be big for everybody in Western Europe (and specifically England is where a lot of this is sourced) – they were large pouches worn on a belt (think the kind of purse a cutpurse would cut if a cutpurse could cut purses). Men wore these on belts outside their clothes, women wore them under their overdresses on a belt; the pockets could be accessed through slits in the overdress near the hips. These types of pockets were huge, large enough to carry snacks and money and oranges and workbags.
There were a couple of problems with this (from an upper-class, high society perspective). One: Nice Young Ladies Shouldn’t Grab At Their Crotches In Public What Will People Think? Two: My Daughter Or Wife May Be Planning On Running Away And Her Pockets Are Full Of Secrets (this is a plot point in the 1740 novel Pamela, in which the titular character has a change of clothes hidden in her pocket under her pillow to escape from her abusive master).
The both problems became less of a problem in the early Regency era, when the dresses shifted from being big poofy things with a wide hip to a slim, Roman-era-inspired gauzy dress like this:
You see that little bag that looks like a medallion? That’s what started a lot of the shit that was to follow. That’s a recticule and it was basically an purse that was so fashionable that it made the whole concept of purses fashionable.
Anyway, back to a chat about privacy real quick: did you know that the concept of a post office used to be controversial because women could receive correspondence that their parents or spouse didn’t know about? There was not a hell of a lot of privacy for women in this era – a very rich woman might have a desk that she could lock, but women basically didn’t own very much or have rights to own very much so if a woman was married or lived with her parents her shit was their shit and they could do with it what they liked. Enter pockets – large bags worn constantly on the person and put under a pillow at night. Got a secret love-letter? Put it in your pocket. Saving a few coins to run away? Pocket. There’s a thesis that I can’t for the life of me find online but that I read in college called “Tye’d about my middle next to my smock: The cultural context of women’s pockets” by Yolanda Van der Krol that discusses the importance of having this private space where you could keep a bit of yourself hidden.
Which brings us again to recticules. Not only were the small, the were worn outside of the clothes and therefore were less private (it would have been much stranger to put a recticule under your pillow than a pocket – if only because being under clothes prevented pockets from getting as dirty). Recticules were “hold a couple of coins” small. They were “maybe a needle case and scissors, but not yarn that’s for sure” small.
They also came into fashion right as men’s clothing was finally settling into the three-piece suit as the standard that would last for the next three hundred-ish years. As breeches and ruffled shirts were going out recticules were coming in – as were slacks and coats and vests each with their own set of pockets for a unique purpose. In the Victorian era a full suit might have as many as seventeen pockets dedicated to things like watches and snuff-boxes and wallets and pen-knifes. Between the Regency Era and the first World War women’s clothing lost its large pockets and went through a variety of purses and small pockets sewn into dresses to fit with the changing styles (surprise surprise, the Victorians were the first to introduce “fake” pockets on women’s clothing, small flaps of fabric meant to be mostly decorative). Meanwhile men’s clothing settled into the pants (though pockets in pants became more popular post-regency), shirt, vest, tie (cravat during regency, ties as we know them later), coat, and hat style that would remain standard business wear until basically now (we have largely ditched the vest in casual environments and the hat altogether). And that outfit has a fuckload of pockets. Even in the most sedate coat-and-slacks look today you’ve got a breast pocket, an inside coat pocket, two pockets on the front of the coat and four pockets on the pants (if you add a vest and a dress shirt with pockets you’ve got even more). That is an embarrassment of pockets!
Because what happened after WWI that people basically stopped making their own clothes and started buying ready-made clothes. And at that point it had become conventional for women to carry purses. And to have small pockets. And to wear tighter clothes.
AND WE NEVER CAME THE FUCK BACK FROM THAT.
Designers and manufacturers excuse the lack of pockets on women’s clothing today by saying “well, women carry purses, don’t they? they don’t need pockets.” There’s a rather infamous quote by Christian Dior just post WWII saying “men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” That attitude still holds. Having too many pockets “ruins the line” of a piece of clothing – a dress with pockets is a beautiful, difficult-to-find thing (it’s getting better in the last five years). You can get “mom jeans” with pockets but it’s harder to find skinny jeans with pockets (though the men’s skinny jeans have pockets).
When you DO have pockets they’re smaller. When I first got angry about this I compared my husband’s pockets to mine by trying to put my large women’s wallet in them and found that it wouldn’t fit completely inside of a single pocket that I owned and it was overwhelmed and lost in all but the smallest of his pockets. Oh, look, I found the pictures:
This is extremely potato quality but top to bottom (women’s clothing on the left, men’s on the right) we’ve got the back pocket on a pair of slacks, the outside pocket on a fleece sweater, the back pocket on a pair of jeans, the front pocket on a pair of jeans, and the largest pocket of my jacket compared to the smallest pocket of his jacket. The photos where the wallet is on top of his clothing is where you couldn’t even see the wallet in the picture because it was buried so deeply in the pocket. I didn’t include the front pocket on the slacks because my slacks didn’t have a front pocket.
So what started all of this was a pair of dog jackets and a pair of jeans. I’d purchased a pair of jeans and was upset to have discovered that the pockets on the front were fake (infuriating). I happened upon some dog jackets in a store – there were “girl” and “boy” jackets. The girl dog jacket had a fake pocket. The boy dog jacket had a real pocket.
Anyway I bought the “boy” dog jacket for my female dog, bought a men’s wallet (which is much smaller but doesn’t have an awesome unicorn skeleton on it) and wrote up my very first angry blog about the patriarchy.
I’ve been something of a grind on the subject of pockets ever since.
(And to anyone who is going to drop in with “just wear men’s clothing” thank you for the helpful suggestion, I find men’s sweaters and jackets quite comfortable but I have yet to find a pair of men’s pants that fits my hips, waist, and thighs simultaneously and doesn’t have an uncomfortably low crotch that chafes my thighs. Also I’ve tried that shit and as it turns out there are plenty of employers who are happy to write you up for not meeting dress code because your clothing is “sloppy or ill-fitting for an office environment.” The boss is perfectly happy when I come into the office with half my head shaved and a skater minidress over skull-patterned tights with platform boots but can’t hang when I put on a suit.)
Thank you for sitting through another session of Yelling with Alli.
GIVE WOMEN’S CLOTHING POCKETS YOU FUCKING COWARDS.
@ms-demeanor I did not know this history and it makes me EVEN ANGRIER THAN I ALREADY WAS on the subject of pockets in women’s clothing.
Okay I wasn’t expecting high quality pocket discourse! But I was glad to be served it! Thank you!