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Pockets are 1000s of years old. Otzi, the so called “Iceman” from approximately 3300 BCE had a belt with a pouch pocket that contained tools including a drill, awl made from bone and dried materials to use a tinder for making fires. 1 Men and women carried little pouches that hung from their garments. In the 17th century these transformed into tie-on pockets that were worn under clothes and petticoats. Garments had slits on the sides to access the contents of the tie-on pockets.

Clothing designed to be worn by women often has fewer pockets than men’s clothing or no pockets at all. Sometimes the pockets are “fake” decorative pockets. Why is that?

As early as the Renaissance, men had many sewn-in pockets in their coats and garments. ii (#_edn2) While having tie-on pockets underneath a petticoat increased women’s security and privacy over an exterior pouch, tie-on pockets could still be forgotten or lost. Conversely men’s sewn in pockets offered more security, privacy and mobility.

In the late 18th century fashion styles changed to less bulky silhouettes. This led to the carrying of small bags called reticules which did not offer much space to carry anything useful. iii (#_edn3) After the French Revolution, discarding bulky petticoats and extravagant aristocratic clothing for simpler and trimmer looks was seen as freeing and liberating. During the Industrial Revolution pockets were seen as something for workers to have and some women thought by not having pockets there were signifying there were liberated from the worry of life. iv (#_edn4) During World War II woman increasingly entered the workforce and wore men’s pants with pockets. Later, these trousers started to become trimmed down and “feminized” by fashion designers including Coco Chanel. In the late 1900’s, women’s pants were mainstream but the fashion industry’s flawed obsession with thinness continued to whittle away and the pocket in women’s clothing. Handbags became fashion statements even as women longed for real pockets. v (#_edn5)

Women have been vocal about their dislike of missing pockets for a long time. A 1905 New York Times article praises the existence of pockets in men’s clothing and laments the lack of pockets in women’s clothing, saying, “Women have from time to time carried bags, sometimes sewn in, sometimes tied on, sometimes brandished in the hand; but a bag is not a pocket.” vi (#_edn6)

Modern fashion designers and clothing trends have not helped bring pockets back. Paul Johnson reports in The Spectator that designer Christian Dior said to him in 1954, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” vii (#edn7) In an article in _The Atlantic, Camilla Olson blames poor pockets on sexism in the fashion industry. Olson notes that the industry is too focused the on the visual parts of clothing over their function and that some think pockets are too ugly.  In the same article, Sara Kozlowski says that it is the fault of fast fashion companies that quickly copy impractical runway fashion designs without any thought to the everyday functional needs of consumers. viii (#_edn8) If one has to carry a handbag then they are potentially less free to use their hands and must also remember where they set down the bag and whether it is secure. This is not a problem for pockets attached to clothing.

Even baby clothes have gendered pocket inequality. What is a non-crawling baby boy going to put in his multipocketed pants? Not sure but his baby sister won’t be putting anything in her pocketless pants. This might not seem like a big deal for a six-month-old but becomes a real limiting factor when kids get older. If a three-year-old girl’s shorts don’t have pockets but a boy’s do then a not-so-subtle message is conveyed. Boys can carry rocks, toys, pencils and other fun stuff and sill use their hands while girls, well, not so much. Usha Lee McFarling recounts in the Los Angeles Times a story about her daughter’s annoyance at not even being able to carry lip balm in the fake pockets of her ski pants while her brother’s pants had pockets aplenty. ix (#_edn9) Recently some clothing lines have begun to address this issue in children’s clothing by prominently adding pockets to girl’s clothes. Woman are also making brands that make pants with useable pockets. x (#_edn10)

There is no reason for this discrepancy between men’s and women’s’ clothing in terms of pockets or the lack thereof. Fortunately, there is growing movement on social media and in popular culture to demand more and better pockets in women’s clothing. An article by Sam White from InStyle chronicles people’s anger at the lack of pockets in women’s clothing. People tell stories of buying men’s clothing for the pockets, not wanting to always carry a purse, using their male partner’s pockets to carry things on walks, a trans woman’s surprise at the unexpected loss of pockets once wearing woman’s clothing and a Redditexternal link post that shows how a 18 month old boy’s pants have bigger pockets than his mother’s jeans. xi (#_edn11)


ii (#ednref2) Burman, B., & Fennetaux, A. (2021). _Women’s tie-on pockets. Victoria and Albert Museum. link . link

iii (#ednref3) Cornwall, G. (2020, January 21). _Perspective | why girls need pockets. The Washington Post. link .

iv (#ednref4) Segran, E. (2018, November 28). _A new generation of women’s clothing designers is changing the world by adding pockets. The Dallas Morning News. link .

v (#ednref5) Tobin, A. (2014, September 18). _Why women’s pockets are useless: A history. Marketplace. link .

vi (#ednref6) Gilman, C. P. (1905, March 5). Male Attire. _The New York Times, pp. 8. link

vii (#ednref7) Johnson, P. (2011, June 4). _The power of a pocket. The Spectator. link .

viii (#ednref8) Basu, T. (2014, September 30). _The gender politics of pockets. The Atlantic. link .

ix (#ednref9) McFarling, U. L. (2019, July 7). _Op-Ed: The ultimate FEMINIST issue: Pockets. Los Angeles Times. link .

x (#ednref10) Segran, E. (2018, November 10). _Yes, even your pockets are sexist. these startups are fighting back. Fast Company. link .

xi (#ednref11) White, S. (2021, June 8). _Of all the ways clothing is gendered, pockets are the most ridiculous. InStyle. link .

  1. Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, April 21). Pocket. Wikipedia. link  ↩︎