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A Not So Pocket-Sized Problem

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When a man wants to place his loose change, phone, and even his wallet somewhere, he reaches straight for his pockets. However, a woman doesn’t have that sort of luxury, which raises the question, “Why do women have smaller pockets than men?”

Throughout history, women’s fashion had not incorporated the modern sewn-in pockets, instead, they had external ‘pockets’ which were just small purses. However, as society and women’s clothing styles began to evolve through time, the only constant was the use of extremely small or fake pockets. The fashion industry should begin to incorporate realistic pockets in women’s jeans, similar to the ones of their male counterparts, as these small pockets represent the inequality between the genders.

Women began using ‘pockets’ in the 17th century, but their purposes were very minimal; storing small items, as a fashion statement, and to emphasize social stratification. Historically, women wore large gowns with petticoats and multiple undergarments. However, even in these large gowns, there were no sewn-in pockets to be seen. Instead, women wore ‘pockets’ around the waist (and under the dress), similar to a mix of the modern purse and fanny pack. According to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, these makeshift pockets were so small and difficult to access that women used them to carry unnecessary items solely in order to display their wealth. The makeshift pockets were commonly found under the petticoat and above the undergarments (“Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion”). Which brings up the question of how one can access the pockets. Before the 1800s, women didn’t access these pockets. They would have to fully strip, or have someone else help them reach these pockets. This made women more dependent on others, which added to the mentality that women were incapable of doing certain things.

However, men had their own pockets with slits and did not require any assistance. Therefore making the comparison unfair. However, during the 18th century, designers began to put little slits in gowns for women to put their items and even their hands in their pockets (“Introduction to 20th-Century Fashion”). As much as these pockets were unideal, they still stored more than the modern pocket, these ‘pockets’ allowed women to store jewelry, cakes/foods, and objects of vanity.

Designers became more focused on the look/design of the pockets, instead of their functions. Throughout the 1700s, the makeshift pockets became increasingly extravagant, with hand-sewed embellishments and embroidery. A woman with elaborate stitching and embroidery on her pockets was viewed as a woman of high class and wealth. Those with plain pockets were seen to be poor. This was because, when a pocket was elaborate, it showed that the woman had enough money to afford extravagance.“Embroidered pockets showing a high degree of skill in design and execution are perhaps but not necessarily from the hand of a professional” (Burman and Denbo, 3). Yet again, society decision, determined women’s needs. The pocket shifted from being a useful item for women, to a trophy/advertisement for proud designers. Nowadays, our pockets may look plain, but similar to the ‘pockets’ from the 17/18th century, they too, act as decoration.

The little improvement made in the 17/18th century with the slit-pockets in gowns, all disappeared in the 19th century. Society’s sexist view on women’s bodies began to affect pockets. Large gowns were now out of fashion, instead, women began wearing Grecian-inspired silhouette dresses. These slim dresses left no room for internal pockets or pouches at all. Many men believed that these Grecian-inspired silhouette dresses accentuate the woman’s body more, and was more pleasing towards the public’s eye. It was argued that, “Women had four visible external bulges already — two breasts and two hips — and a pocket inside their dress/pants would make an odd fifth” (Johnson). Therefore, women with money and class ditched the pocket and left pockets for the poor. What once was a luxury for the aristocracy, was now an essential for the working class.

Pockets remained an essential item of dress for girls, older women, and other working-class women during the 19th century. In contrast to the delicate, embroidered pockets of the 18th century, those of the 19th century are larger and quite plain. This was because pockets lost their place in the fashion world, and became a symbol for the women who had to work, or in better terms— the poor (Burman and Denbo, 5). Society’s sexist view on women and their bodies set back the innovation that was made in the 17/18th century. The sexiest view that once dictated the women’s fashion industry is still affect, the idea that women’s clothing should only be for accentuating their bodies and glamour creates a sexist mentality.

In the middle of the post-World War period, women’s fashion had an ‘identity crisis’. Society questioned whether women could wear pants, or would their bodies look odd with pants on. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the modern sewn in pockets began to appear in women’s clothing, yet these sorts of pockets began appearing in men’s clothing as early as the 1600s. Women such as The Suffragettes, The Bluestockings, and The Seven Sisters were considered the ‘new women’. The new women began to protest for pockets as pockets began to become important during the fin-de-siècle Rational Dress campaign. The Rational Dress Society promoted women to dress for health, leaving behind the corsets, and instead adopting clothing that allowed movement, such as loose trousers (Myers, 4). It hit its pinnacle just around the turn of the century, a time when men’s suits sported somewhere around 15 pockets — so it’s no coincidence that sewn-in women’s pockets appeared the same time.

However, even though men had 15 pockets, women only had one to two (Myers, 4). This was an obvious indicator of the inequality between men and women. Not only did men have more rights than women, but the still had more/larger pockets than women. However, feminist women continued to fight sexism while wearing pants — with pockets, despite what society deemed fit! Seeing women with their hands in their new pant pockets marked the beginning of success in usurping the all-important symbolic gender roles made by society (Myers, 15).

However, this was still not enough. These pockets were still too small to actually store anything. If the modern fashion industry began to put larger pockets in women’s pants, then perhaps this visual of ‘feminism’ can be reintroduced.

Today, women’s pockets have decreased in size from those of the 20th century. Society coined a term, ‘pocket-sized’. This refers to items that are at a convenient size, and can fit in one’s pocket. However, many of these ‘pocket-sized’ items don’t even fit in a women’s pocket. Everyday pocket-sized items such as; a phone, a pen, and even a wallet, are much larger than a woman’s pocket. The pockets on women’s jeans average just 5.6 inches; moreover, while the male’s jean has a pocket that averages 8.5 inches (Diehm and Thomas). After measuring 80 pairs of men and women jeans from top brands, Jan Diehm and Amber Thomas have discovered that “The pockets in women’s jeans are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets” (Diehm and Thomas). Beyond the numbers, women’s pockets also don’t live up to their function.

After all, one’s pocket is only as good as what you can fit in it. Based on those 80 pairs of jeans from leading fashion brands such as; Levi’s, Wranglers, Calvin Klein, and Guess, only 40 percent of women’s front pockets can completely fit an iPhone 6. Barely half of the women’s pockets can fully fit a wallet specifically made to fit in pockets. And although women’s hands may be smaller than men’s, an average pocket can’t even fit an average woman’s hand beyond the knuckles into the pockets. Such evidence proves that women’s pockets are too small to fit basic necessities. While their male counterparts have the luxury to fit wallets, pens, phones, their hands, or even all the above combined. If ‘pocket-sized’ necessities can’t even fit in women’s pockets, it is an obvious marker that women need larger pockets.

During this era, which is full of conflict and disorder, many people believe there are better things to focus on besides small pockets. However, It’s hard for most of our society to realize something as small as pockets could mark sexism and male superiority. Many people may say that larger women’s jean pockets will not change the inequality between men and women, because they are just pockets. Though parts of that statement may be true, it is mostly wrong. Yes, pockets will not abolish sexism and inequality as a whole, however, it acts as a small step in a large movement. Acknowledging that sexism exists in our fashion industry and society creates a step forward towards equality. That is because these small pockets indicate male superiority.

In ‘Form and Deformity: the Trouble with Victorian Pockets’, The record shows that ‘The lack of pockets was a huge disadvantage to women and one reason why male superiority was so steadfastly maintained’ (Matthews, 563). In 1954 Christian Dior said to Paul Johnson: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” (Johnson). This type of mentality, that women don’t have things to keep in their pockets like men, is very toxic. It creates a view that only men have necessities, and women only have decorative outfit pieces. This causes society to view women as people who are incapable of doing much else than looking pretty. Adding in equal sized pockets in women’s jeans is just a small aspect in the grand scheme of things.

As our society evolves, our fashion industry is staying in place when it comes to women’s wear. The act of acknowledging something as small as pockets doesn’t erase the problem, instead, it creates a pathway for innovation and change. Sexism isn’t black and white, something as small and irrelevant as pockets could be an indicator for sexism. Ultimately, women don’t want larger pockets so they can carry more pens or wallets, they want larger pockets so they can see that society views men and women as equals. As a society, we must fight to create larger jean pockets for women in order to rid the sexism in both the fashion industry, and in the world. Afterall, the new woman once fought for pockets, and won, who said we can’t?

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