Pockets and sexism - a history - culthread

Pockets and sexism - a history

“Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration,” Christian Dior famously stated in 1954. Pockets were for functionality, and women had no need for such a thing. It was a different time… right?

Now it's the 21st century and pockets still remain an uncommon addition to women’s fashion. All girls have been in this situation. You’re wearing a pretty dress, another girl comes up to you and compliments you on it, saying “Wow, what a lovely dress!”. You turn and beam at her excitedly, exclaiming “Thank you!! And it has POCKETS!!!”, proceeding to slip your hands inside them and demonstrate exaggeratedly. Her face lights up and you spend a few moments gleefully admiring the wondrous inclusion of pockets in the summer dress and their unfathomably large size, big enough for… A PHONE. And… A WALLET. Miracle of miracles!


17th Century

Pockets started to appear in men’s clothing in the 1600s, however internal pockets were nowhere to be found on women’s dresses. Women resorted to wearing small sacks tied around their waists under their petticoats in order to carry their possessions. However, access to these sacks were not exactly easy. A lot of layers were involved in women’s clothing at the time – and we really do mean A LOT. Women wore gowns, under which they wore a petticoat, with an underpetticoat beneath, and a shift beneath that. A lot of layers to fumble through to reach that small pouch!

18th Century

Women started to get creative with their pocket-sacks and embroidered them with all manners of floral patterns and stitching embellishments. There was a breakthrough with the accessibility issue as well – slits in the gowns! Women could easily slide their hands through the slits in their dresses to reach into the sacks for their belongings. 


19 Century

The voluminous gowns of the previous centuries are replaced by a slimmer silhouette akin to the bodycon dress phenomenon of modern times. The larger skirts were traded for more figure-hugging dresses, which thus did not allow for nifty pocket pouches. Men, on the other hand, still had the luxury of slipping their hands into their shirt or pant pockets to reach their belongings. Women now resorted to a type of small handbag called a reticule that barely even fit some coins. They were completely useless and did not serve the function they were intended for. The reticules were more a status symbol than anything else, as the men were the ones who handled the money and property and well-off women would of course leave all the business and money handling to the men, rendering pockets unnecessary.


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. The audacity of having some more fabric on our legs! How dare women do such a thing! MADNESS. Controversy was high, but women finally were on the path to equality – we had trousers, and we had pockets! 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. Marlene Dietrich, a QUEEN of utilitarian looks and oh-so-chic pockets was a pioneer for female equality, fought against sexual oppression and inspired countless fashion trends that we still love to this day. 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! Triumph was, however, short-lived. As per usual, the world of men and fashion were obsessed with slimming down women’s figures in the name of “femininity”, thereby slimming down the silhouettes of the trousers women had fought so hard for. 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

And thus we come to the modern day struggle against the patriarchy for equal pocket rights. There were moments where menswear-inspired pieces were trendy and women wore male slacks, but that quickly died down with the rise of the designer handbag industry. All of the high fashion maisons scrambled to create bags and pockets slipped further and further from their minds. Fast fashion trends have ranged from super tight skinny jeans to slim fit blazers, all the while excluding the one thing women have been desiring for centuries – pockets that are actually large enough to fit the belongings we carry around daily. The pockets we do have on our jeans or in our jackets can barely even fit our keys, not to mention the horrifying fake pockets found at the front of many jeans. Why even put them there?! Just another disappointment. Bags and pockets are shrinking while mobile phones are growing and the fashion industry NEEDS. TO. CATCH. UP. More and more celebrities are taking notice of the lack of pockets in everyday garments and make a statement in wearing pocketed gowns on red carpets. 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”. Change is definitely on its way, but very…very…slowly.

Comfortable, soft, easy-to-wear trousers with some nice BIG pockets at the front and the back. Yes, that’s what we want. And not the slightly insulting “boyfriend jeans” that insinuate we must have stolen our boyfriends’ pants to be wearing such loose trousers, but REAL equality in terms of pocket size and inclusivity in our everyday clothing. Men’s pockets are basically Mary Poppins’ bag in comparison with the teeny-tiny pockets in our trousers that I can barely squeeze my pinkie finger into. Enough of this madness!!


What do we want? EQUAL POCKET RIGHTS TO MEN. And we want them NOW.  








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