11 Nov Pockets Are A Feminist Issue
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 15.11.21
Pockets – and I mean this most sincerely – are a feminist issue. Indeed, pockets were on the women’s rights agenda as far back as the 1800s, right there alongside the demand for the right to vote.
So at the same time as lobbying to participate equally in democracy, campaigns were led by the Rational Dress Society to fight for women’s clothing to be equally functional. Amid cries to tear off your corsets and let a sister breathe, instruction manuals were distributed on how to sew pockets into your skirts which proved wildly popular.
The argument went that if women were to have their own money, hold property and choose their government, they’d need somewhere to put their wallet and keys and pens. So pockets became a symbol of independence – in Britain in 1910 the ‘Suffragette Suit’ was all the rage, sporting no less than six pockets.
A conspiracy theorist might find it interesting that the Suffragettes achieved one goal (the vote) but not the other (pockets). I’m not saying there was a backroom trade off, but there might have been a backroom trade off, right?
Either way, it is high time the pocket was firmly back on the feminist agenda because here we are more than one hundred years later with our too-small pockets, fake pockets, and stitched-closed pockets. Even when we are allowed them, research tells us the pockets in women’s jeans are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets, and yet our phones are the same size and none of this feels like equality.
It started out kind of equal in the Middle Ages. These were pre-pocket times – instead, women and men kept their bits and pieces in pouches which hung from rope – think an early version of the bum-bag. Quite a few bits and pieces, too. Historians list pincushions, thimbles, pencil cases, knives, scissors, keys, spectacles, watches, diaries, combs, mirrors and (naturally) snacks.
For security purposes, people started wearing these pouches inside their clothes with slits made in the top layer of their garments for easy access. Then somewhere around the 17th century, the pouches began to be sewn inside men’s jackets and trousers and – voila – the pocket was invented.
But not for women. The ladies were left still slinging their pouches amongst their many layers of petticoats and skirt. Then as our clothing became more figure hugging, the pouches got smaller and eventually disappeared, and you ended up with Christian Dior allegedly insisting in 1954, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”
Which is kind of rude in that it suggests men do stuff and therefore need somewhere to put the stuff they do it with, while women are only about looking nice, with nary a nod to functionality. Can’t help noting that Dior also does a nice line in expensive handbags which is what you could be convinced to buy after several centuries of not being allowed a pocket.
So this is my call to arms for pockets. Pockets for our hands when they’re cold, or awkward, or to carry whatever we want – a phone, an eftpos card, some tissues, maybe a lippy, definitely a snack, and now I’m intrigued by the idea of carrying a thimble. All tucked neatly into a magical side-seam cache, leaving us joyously hands-free and able to embrace the world about us.
Demand pockets of manufacturers, and reward clothing designers who know women well enough to give us a pocket. Though we will definitely keep the voting thing, too.