Women’s wear has been missing practical pockets for centuries, but brands like Carolina Herrera, Athleta and Princess Awesome are changing that.
More women are wearing the pants today. Too bad we still can’t find decent pockets in many of them.
The struggle is real among preschool girls, too. Huntsville, Ala. mom Heather Kaczynski, 28, vented on Twitter last Friday that her 3-year-old has no place in her outfits to carry her toys. “PLEASE PUT POCKETS ON GIRLS PANTS. omg. My 3yo is SO ANGRY when she doesn’t have pockets or the pockets are fake,” Kaczynski wrote. “She has THINGS TO HOLD, like rocks and Power Rangers. She’s resorted to putting stuff down her shirt. come on. pockets for girls please.”
This resonated with grown women, who have long used purses to tote their phones, keys, wallets and other essentials because female fashion often omits functional pockets. If pockets are sewn in at all, they’re often too small to hold a wallet or a standard smartphone. Or designers add insult to injury by featuring decorative pocket fronts that can’t hold anything.
My girl refuses to buy shorts in the girl section because "they don't have any treasure pockets." May she always value pockets full of rocks so highly.
— Alison Chandra (@aliranger29) April 22, 2018
So it’s not surprising that Kaczynski’s rant went viral, amassing more than 59,000 retweets and 245,000 likes before she took it down. (She said the attention “gives me anxiety.”)
“I knew that women’s lack of pockets were ‘A Thing’ we’d been collectively complaining about forever, but I was only just realizing how this issue started way, way earlier for girls,” Kaczynski told Moneyish. “Of course, almost all boys’ pants have pockets. We’re already starting this slow, insidious gender divide at the preschool level.”
Kaczynski said she would shop in the boys’ department for her kid, except her daughter wants pink shorts. These are often pocketless. And it frustrates her to see her little one stuffing rocks and her favorite toys down her shirt, because she has nowhere else to put them. Fortunately, other parents have pointed her toward children’s brands that pack plenty of girls’ pockets, including Princess Awesome, Girls Will Be and gender-neutral brand Primary.
“We think of little girls as cute; we think of little boys as adventurers, as do-ers,” she said. “But all kids are miniature scientists, and they all want to explore the world and figure things out and examine every flower, rock and bug they encounter. They all want to stuff their pockets with rocks to take home for later. We basically shrink our gender preconceptions down to fit our kids.”
This deep pocket divide between males and females dates back to the 1800s, according to the Fashion Institute of Technology’s recent “Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function” exhibit. Prior to the French Revolution, the full skirts that were en vogue allowed women to wear small fabric pouches that tied on at the waist under their dresses, which they accessed through slits cut into their garments. But as excess was exchanged for a more restrained, slimmer silhouette, there was no longer any place to conceal a bulky pouch.
“Pockets emerged from skirts to become the purse,” Virginia Theerman, one of two writers on FIT’s exhibit, told Moneyish. “And we see it go back and forth throughout history. At different points, people carry different styles of pockets and purses.”
So during WWII, for example, when women entered the workforce while many men were away at war, working girls wore pants with pockets, or sewed pockets onto their skirts. They needed a place to put their working papers, money, train schedules, pocket watches, etc. But once the war was over, styles swung back to emphasize the “feminine” figure again in the 50s and 60s, and pockets had to shrink down or be eliminated to allow for slim-fit pants and skirts.
“It’s form versus function. It’s changing fashion. It’s also a little social pressure,” said Theerman.
But pockets get political when you consider the freedom they give the wearer. They’re a place to put important personal items that you need to be independent, such as ID cards, keys, money and checkbooks/credit cards. So if a woman didn’t have the capacity to carry all of these things herself, she would have to rely on her husband to hold them for her.
Or she could be saddled with a bag that marked her as a second-class citizen, especially in the workplace. As the Atlantic noted in a 2014 piece: “A man can simply swipe up his keys and iPhone on the way to a rendezvous with co-workers and slip them into his pocket. A woman on the way to that same meeting has to either carry those items in her hand, or bring a whole purse with her—a definitive, silent sign that she is a woman.”
“There is definitely a sense of mobility and independence tied in with pockets; an ease of access, the ability to be on the move quickly instead of worrying, ‘What if I forget (my purse) or lose it, or it’s too full and I can’t find anything in it?’” said Theerman.
They are also a means to conceal things, which is why Theerman notes there was an unspoken rule before the Civil War that slaves weren’t allowed to have them. “They could either hide a weapon, or have a personal life and hide private items,” she explained. “There’s this idea of pockets going hand-in-hand with privilege.”
And today, they are a means to keep your essentials easily accessible — and, more importantly, to keep your hands free on today’s tech-obsessed society, rather than having to use a hand to hold onto a clutch or purse to carry what you need.
“One conclusion we came to (in our exhibit) is that no one is happy with the way they carry objects; whether it’s large pockets or purses, no one is fully satisfied with how they carry things,” said Theerman. Hence many working women today ditching their purses for backpacks.
Some brands are answering demand for pockets. Carolina Herrera led the way for runway designers to make pockets a staple in women’s dresses and formal wear. “I love pockets so much I design skirts around them,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2016. “Sometimes I go out without a handbag.” A rep for David’s Bridal told Moneyish that the Fall 2018 collection it just previewed at Bridal Market Week features 20 dresses with pockets, compared to the Fall 2017 collection, which had 12 pocketed looks.
And Athleta’s vice president of merchandising Jana Henning told Moneyish that 95% of their pants and performance tights for women have pocketing of some sort, such as a small key pocket, an open stash pocket to hold a wallet of phone, or a secure zipper pocket. And many of their best-sellers contain pockets.
“More and more, we find that our customer has such a busy life, and she’s living in this hands-free zone, that she really needs to use her hands for things – whether it is on her phone or dealing with her kid or in the midst of work meetings,” said Henning. “She likes to know those critical things are on her at all times. And (a pocket) allows her to be relieved from having to have a handbag all of the time.”
Parents like Kaczynski will be happy to know that Athleta’s line for girls will be introducing some tights with “secret pockets” — or pockets within pockets — this summer.
“The lack of pockets is a tiny, silly problem — unless you think of it in the larger conception of women not being considered to need the same functions as men. Which, of course, we do,” said Kaczynski. “We all have phones, keys, and money to carry around at the very least. It’s an autonomy thing. Why should women have to buy purses for these needs, and men not?”
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