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Pockets Through Time: A Journey of Gender, Fashion, and Equality

Pockets Through Time: A Journey of Gender, Fashion, and Equality

Pockets have a contentious history of gendered fashion, from women's garments sporting small, practically useless pockets to the outright absence of this fundamental feature. This obvious disparity has not only been labelled as sexist but has also been recognized as a political issue, reflecting broader societal attitudes towards women's roles and independence.

However, let’s venture back to medieval ages when nobody had pockets at all and both men and women carried bags. As crime rates increased, people began sewing these bags underneath their garments for safety. For men, this was a relatively straightforward process, but for women, the situation was much more complicated. In those times, women wore several layers of garments, including 2 petticoats, which made accessing these bags a cumbersome task. Eventually, in the 17th century, men's clothing underwent a transformation, and pockets were incorporated, providing men the much-needed convenience. Not surprisingly, this transition somehow bypassed women's clothing entirely.

Pockets Through Time: A Journey of Gender, Fashion, and Equality - Pinklay

Pocket displayed on a mannequin to illustrate how they were worn under garments

The 18th century brought about a shift in the fashion landscape as skirts slimmed down and dresses clung closer to the body. This transformation posed a challenge: where could one hide these concealed bags? As a result, the "reticule" was born, a tiny bag that could hold only a few essentials such as a coin and a handkerchief. In turn telling us that society believed women didn't need more than these small items because their male counterparts would handle more significant matters, including financial affairs, on their behalf.

During the French Revolution, pockets were even banned from women's clothing to prevent them from concealing revolutionary material. This political act further highlights how pockets were not just about utility but also had implications for personal freedoms.

However, the turn of the 20th century brought about a significant change, with women rebelling and demanding more independence. They wanted practicality and convenience, and instruction manuals on how to sew pockets into skirts became popular. With the onset of World Wars, women adopted more practical clothing like comfortable trousers with ample pockets.

Pockets Through Time: A Journey of Gender, Fashion, and Equality


Unfortunately, the post-war era saw the dirty head of patriarchy rise again, and women were once again expected to prioritize femininity over practicality. The slimming of women's clothing led to pockets once again becoming only a man's accessory. The rise of the handbag industry further diminished the importance of pockets in women's fashion.

Today, despite the evolution of fashion, pockets continue to be a contentious issue for women. The trend of skinny jeans and slim-fit garments often leaves women with tiny, unusable pockets. The size of mobile phones seems to increase while pockets continue to shrink, reflecting inequality in design.

The pocket disparity might seem trivial to some, but it reflects the deep-rooted inequalities and sexist attitudes that persist in society. It symbolizes how women's needs and convenience have been overlooked in favour of aesthetic and societal expectations.

The call for pocket equality is not just about fashion but about challenging the very premise of gender inequality.

It's a demand for practicality, independence, and empowerment. Women should be able to carry their essentials without needing a bag all the time. A simple request for fairness in pocket design reflects a broader desire for equality in all aspects of life.

I am definitely the ‘team pocket equality’. Are you?

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