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Pocket Women

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

One of my favorite articles of clothing in my closet has to be my striped jumpsuit—not because it has stripes or that it can be worn with literally anything, but because it has big pockets. As someone who shops for women’s clothing—whether it be skirts, dresses, or jeans—I, as well as many of my peers, have noticed the lack of pockets. My guy friends can shove whole water bottles in their pants, but I can barely fit my phone in my pocket without half of it sticking out the end.

Historically speaking, men and women both lugged pouches slung from a rope and clothes had little slits that allowed one to access their pouches without having to push around your pants or skirt. Then, in 17th century Europe, the idea of concealing your goods became popular, and pockets were directly sewn into the clothing. For women, this meant having pockets under 2 layers of undergarments and a petticoat, between the under-petticoat and main petticoat. The inconvenience and ruffling through layers of fabric was seen as socially inappropriate, restricting women in carrying personal and common items. Meanwhile, males continued with large pockets that allowed them to carry nearly anything they pleased. As time went on, this divide of pockets only, ironically, largened. Women then began carrying reticules, a type of bag similar to the one Lizzo brought to the 2019 AMAs.

In time, as Medium suggests, “Women’s pockets essentially disappeared because their husbands would carry all their money and necessities. After all, women were meant to just sit at home, drink tea, prepare meals for their husbands, and knit little jumpers for their hordes of children.” Thus, whether intentional or not, the sexist beginnings took root. Simultaneously, the popularity of slimmer and tight-fitting dresses came into fashion, and the appearance of bulging pockets became a nuisance to the feminine figure.

Realizing the injustice in the system, at the turn of the 20th century when wars raged over the world, women began taking back their pocket space. Campaigns by the Rational Dress Society put more than six pockets into clothing in symbolism of their freedom to carry and do as they please.

Things have changed now... right? Well, women aren’t expected to wear yards of fabric on our waist anymore, but the same fundamental issue still applies. In a visual diagram by virtual essay weekly journal, Pudding, it's been averaged that “the pockets in women’s jeans are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets”, with men’s pockets being, on average, 4 inches longer. This smaller size in pocket length and area can represent a resurgence of the idea that curves and lines should accentuate a woman’s body, thus the smaller pockets to avoid “ruining” that ideal. More than from a fashion perspective, this emphasis on the figure compromises functionality. With the era of technology raging upon us, many smartphones are only getting larger in area with all-around glass displays and touch screens. While it may be easier on the eyes, this doesn’t make it any easier on the pockets. To fit a phone, one has to put their phone in horizontally and at obnoxious angles to stretch the material to its full capacity. To the same degree, only 10% of a woman's hand fits inside her pocket while 100% of it would be able to fit inside a men’s pocket.

In argument for smaller pockets, The London Spectator mentioned that “[women] had four external bulges already — two breasts and two hips — and a money pocket inside their dress would make an ungainly fifth”. Luxury brand founder, Christian Dior further cemented the patriarchy of pockets in 1954 allegedly saying, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

Pockets are a symbol of personal freedom and privacy, allowing women to hold things close to themselves and allowing for unaccompanied travel. The wider issue here is the breakdown of harmful stereotypes and the inherent ideas we carry with them. By reclaiming those very things that were pitted against us, as the Radical Dress Society did, we can make a statement and bring light to a long-standing issue. So wear your pockets and bulk them with your keys, phone, and whatever else you can fit because you deserve just as much space.

-Allison Li


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