A couple of weeks ago I was in a conference room way too early in the morning, ready to tweet tweet tweet about a breakfast the governor was attending. I found my company’s table, set my bag on a chair, unzipped it, found my phone and business cards in a side pocket, rezipped the bag, brought the tips of my fingers to the pocket of my blazer only to poke myself in the side. The lines where pockets should be were sewn shut, and not the kind of sewn shut that can be snipped open to reveal a functioning pocket. It was the kind of sewn shut that means the designer said, “hey, you know what would be fun? Let’s make it look like this jacket has pockets, but not actually give it pockets! The ladies will love it.”
I silently mouthed a word that was not appropriate for the setting, moved my hand to feel for pant pockets I already knew I did not have. Along with many women, I have found myself in this predicament often. Women’s clothing very rarely have effective pockets. Especially business clothes. Which is what really got me frustrated that day, because it is at work events like that when I most need pockets.
Eventually I just decided to leave my business cards at the table and just take my phone. I walked over to the sponsorship tables looking for tweetable moments, and began talking to a man who was interested in working with my university. I felt at an equal level of capability and expertise as the gentlemen I was talking to. I felt professional and competent. But then came the end of the conversation, and with it, a simple and I could staple act in the professional world – exchanging business cards. He reached into his pocket and handed me a business card, which I thanked him for and then had to explain my pocket problem as the reason I did not have my business cards on me. A small interaction, yes, but not being able to participate fully made me feel lesser, if even for a moment.
This may seem like a trivial problem to those of you have always had ample pocket space, and some of you may tell me to plan better – to make sure I am wearing clothes with pockets the next time I go to a networking or business event. But that is partially where the problem lies. Women do have to actively search for clothing with a functionality that men just have. Women’s clothing are tighter fitting for the most part, which does make pockets an issue – leaving unflattering lumps on thighs and rear ends. And the reason women’s clothing are tight is a whole different issue I do not want to get into – and I don’t mind pants that show off what my mother gave me – but tightness does not explain why my loose fitting blazer does not have pockets. Throughout my 23 years of dealing with this, I found it merely frustrating. But that work event was the first time I found it limiting.
Women’s pockets, a history
So I wanted to see what others were already writing about this issue, as I knew I was not the first woman to have this frustration. To my surprise, I walked into a whole world of gender and fashion industry issues I did not know existed, several of which were just written a little over a month ago by some prominent blogs and magazines such as Jezebel, The Atlantic and Marketplace. Obviously I had not been following tech news enough – because as it turns out, the size of the new iPhone 6 had inspired a series of articles about pockets (or lack thereof) in women’s clothing. It was there that I realized how “pocketlessness” was such a gender-defining issue.
The Marketplace article gave the history of pockets for women. In the 1700s, the style of dresses fluffed up with skirts and petticoats allowed for sewn-in pocket bags that could hide among all the fabric. But basically as soon as women’s clothing started becoming sleek in the 1800s, pockets were out of the question for high class women – making pockets both a gender and class indicator.
If I were to interpret [the change],” says fashion historian Elizabeth Morano, “it comes down to ‘you don’t want this functional item. It’s not traditionally feminine, it’s not fashionable.
Marketplace goes on to explain how pockets became a symbol of manliness – case in point, many black and white photos in which mean have their hands in their pockets. Which made me think of pictures I’ve often wondered about; Napoleon Bonaparte and other men in power positions with hands resting in the breast of their coats. Suddenly I wondered if they were showing off access to inside pockets. The only thing more rare in women’s clothing than external pockets are internal jacket pockets – and oh how I long to pull some secret note or classy pocket watch out of an inside pocket.
Pocketlessness does not deter me from being ambitious, but…
The moment you discovered that not only was the fabric perfect, the fit amazing, but here were ACTUAL FUNCTIONING pockets, let me ask you: Was it not the greatest moment of your life? Did it not add a skip to your step? Were you not astonished each time you reached down and slid your hands into the outrageously useful fabric compartment? When women complimented you on the outfit, did you not reveal to them with exclamatory glee that it also possessed something unexpected and lovely? And was that thing not pockets? – by Tracy Moore
However, there were also a few statements that were a bit extreme – like this one from Tonya Basu, who wrote The Atlantic article (the emphasis is mine):
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.
I am pretty sure that walking into a room is enough of a sign that I am a woman. I like being recognized as a woman, and I do not feel like carrying a purse or holding a phone in my hand holds me back from my aspirations. But, as stated above, it does put me in awkward positions that men do not have to deal with, and that have a simple solution.
So this is me adding my voice to the request for pocket equality. Basu does indicate that functional pockets are on the rise in women’s clothing, but it is going to be a slow process. So seriously, fashion industry, you should get on it. Have you seen how excited women get when they discover their new skirt or dress has pockets? Just imagine giving that joy to women in all of their clothing…someone should really swoop up this business idea.
I am just handing this one to you – so please, go forth and make pockets.