Pocket Politics: The Sexism Behind Pocket Sizes - culthread

Pocket Politics: The Sexism Behind Pocket Sizes

“Where will I put my phone?” is a question I ask myself way too often. I’ve often ended up just holding it, or giving it to a man in the group to put in their pocket. 

Why? Women’s pockets just aren’t good enough. Before leaving home, and when choosing their clothes, women need to actively think about where they’ll place each of their belongings. We can’t just assume that we’ll have pockets for it! 

Either our pockets are fake, or tiny, or – when they’re sort of the right size – are placed in a location that looks weird or is prone to pick-pocketing. 

This truly is an age-old issue, and it still remains predominant because mid-range fashion is still dominated by men (according to the Atlantic). That means our clothes are still primarily designed by men, whose thoughts are apparently “that’s okay, women carry bags”. 


Brief Timeline of the History of Pockets

17th Century

  • Pockets in men’s clothing
  • Women resorted to wearing small sacks tied around their waists under their petticoats in order to carry their possessions

18th Century

  • Slits in the gowns enabled women to access their pocket-sacks, which they also began decorating

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19th Century

  • More figure-hugging fashion did not allow for nifty pocket pouches.
  • Women now resorted to a type of small handbag called a reticule that barely even fit some coins - pretty useless

pocket sexism women pocket

20th Century

  • Women started to rebel in the late 1800s with a rising popularity in pocket-sewing instruction manuals, as women sought after independence. 
  • Public outrage was ignited when women started to wear trousers. 
  • With the World Wars came more utilitarian and practical clothing, such as trousers with large pockets akin to those of men and more women entered the workforce

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  • Later: The loose-fitting “man-styles” women had been wearing during the war periods were replaced with skin-tight trousers, once again eliminating our beloved pockets. Sigh. (Also, the late 1990s trend of tight low-rise jeans did not help AT ALL with the pocket issue… sorry Britney Spears.)

21st Century

  • Rise of the designer handbag industry
  • Bags and pockets are shrinking while mobile phones are growing
  • Gender-fluid lines and androgynous unisex fashion is slowly gaining popularity and we have seen a small but significant shift in what is considered “female fashion”.

women pockets multi-pocket sexism


Historically speaking (pre-20th century), men arguably carried documents, money, and keys, so it was assumed that only they needed pockets and functionality. Personally, I’m sure that women had stuff to carry that their apparel just didn’t enable them to. Even if we are to give into classic gender stereotypes, and think of the baby’s stuff, or make-up!


The time when women had the most pockets is when women started wearing trousers in the early 20th century, and entered the workforce during the two world wars. A 1910 fashion show at New York City’s Hotel Astor featured a “suffragette costume” that boasted “two pockets in the front and two behind” with a total of “seven or eight pockets, all in sight and all easy to find”. Since then, there have been more pockets, then less pockets, and back again – following the trends of the times. But we can’t help but wonder how this is still an issue, and one that is very specific to women’s apparel. 

women and pockets pocket sexism
Modern icon Coco Chanel famously refused to ride a horse in a skirt and took the trousers off a male ride to wear as her own. A legend by all accounts! 



According to The Pudding, pockets on women’s jeans average 5.6 inches, whereas on men’s it’s 9.1 inches. Women’s jean pockets are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower.

We discuss pockets a lot at culthread, and Sarah, another team member felt she was “adequately pocketed”. After some debate, we figured out that it might be because she sometimes wears men’s clothes. In the 1980's, when Nick Kamen took off his Levi 501's in a launderette and the world went mad, women bought these 'men's' jeans in their millions. Hence we got the mens pockets too. Must we wear men’s clothes to have pockets?


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Famed fashion designer Christian Dior further cemented the patriarchy of pockets in 1954 allegedly saying, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

That’s the underlying assumption: that women need style not function, and can’t have both. And that we rely on men for that function.

Bags and purses are an extra faff to carry, think about, and purchase. Fashion doesn’t ask men to carry purses solely for their phone. Instead, we ask the men in our lives to carry the phone because we don’t have sufficient pockets. And when we do, we rely on men to carry our stuff.

In the 21st century, our clothes still suggest that we depend on men. For some, it’s convenient too: it reinforces the patriarchy, fuels the $47 billion purse and bag market, and encourages unnecessary spending (and waste) to buy something practical (my “doing chores” jeans) and something stylish (my “going out” jeans) – rather than an all-in-one pair. 

The lack of pockets has long been a burden for women, as shown by the inventive ways women added them to their outfits over history. We no longer depend on men, we work and need just as much practicality as men, and we carry the same amount if not more!

It’s time for fashion to catch up. Women can and deserve to have both style and functionality, in fact that’s what we want

The Women Behind Your culthreads

The Women Behind Your culthreads

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