When Natasha Beddingfield released the song ‘Pocket Full of Sunshine’ in 2007, we may have been singing about inner strength, but we were drooling over the pockets. It’s rare that those who wear ‘women’s clothing’ can claim to have a pocket full of anything except lint and disappointment.
In a poll about pockets, YouGov discovered that 80% of women would prefer to have pockets in their clothing, and 40% of women have put an item of clothing back on the rail after seeing it has no pockets. Even the pockets we do have are woefully lacking, as pointed out by the digital publication The Pudding. In a study on men’s vs women’s jean pockets, they found that the pockets in ‘women’s jeans’ are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets. These pockets are not even big enough for our hands, let alone our personal effects. But where does this pocket deficit come from, and does gender bias play a role?
It was not always this way. Women used to have pockets that they could tie around their waist and access through gaps in their skirts. These pockets would be filled to the brim with all kinds of useful things, from keys to knives to snacks. However, when the fashion moved away from rococo and towards the pencil-like a-line silhouette, there was no room left to hide one’s valuables. To not ruin the sleek, straight figure, designers started to leave pockets out of women’s fashion and instead create the multi-billion pound handbag industry. Men, however, were considered too busy to carry a bag, and their items too important to be swinging around in the public domain. Their clothing started to have pockets of all shapes and sizes tailored in, and pockets began to be a staple of masculine clothing, and entirely lacking from more feminine styles.
Another reason that women were denied pockets was because men were worried about what women might hide inside them. Pockets are effectively a private space that can be brought into the public realm and could contain all manner of mysterious or dangerous items. The freedom that pockets afforded women was frightening to those looking to maintain the (oppressive) social structures, and thus this private space was taken away, making it harder for women to navigate public spaces unchaperoned.
The fact that when we do have pockets, they are either just decoration or way too small to be useful, shows that ‘women’s clothing’ prioritises fashion over function. Where it is perfectly acceptable for someone who wears ‘men’s clothing’ to wear cargo pants (or fisherman’s trousers) which, let’s be honest, are basically 16 pockets sewn together in a short-like shape, those who wear women’s fashion are expected to prefer looking good over carrying things. It has long been a fundamental truth of society that women are there to be admired, and even those companies who are starting to introduce pockets into their clothing today often miss the mark. Women could choose to wear pocket-filled ‘men’s clothes’, and some do as clothing itself is genderless and we should all be able to wear what is most comfortable.
But fashion has always been a way for people, especially those who identify as female and the LGBTQIA+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalised sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close community, to express themselves and show their experience and personality. Those who like to dress in a more feminine way continue to be disappointed by the disconnect between femininity and functionality. A move towards gender-neutral clothing by brands such as Levi’s or Uniqlo might present us with the solution, as it necessarily moves away from frills and towards functionality. But even then, women’s clothing wearers must make the choice between the fashion they love and the functionality they crave.
We are living in a pocket revolution. Women have been fighting for pockets for longer than we’ve been fighting for suffrage, and it is arguable that this seemingly inane solution of introducing pockets to women’s fashion will be a fundamental step in the fight for women’s rights. As a society, we trust pocket-wearers to not carry dangerous items and to be responsible for their property, in exchange for privacy, something that wearers of women’s clothes haven’t fully experienced before. Similarly, the fashion industry must make the move from designing women’s clothing to be admired, to designing it with functionality in mind.