Every year in the spring I see the city embark on a shopping spree for new clothes, new phones (!) and ice coffee. Just like everyone else, I also shed my spring coat and any other unnecessary clothing so I can float around freely in the warm, comforting summer weather. But hold on. Everything I’ve kept in my coat’s pockets are suddenly homeless. After an awkward moment at the local coffee shop and and a hurried trip home for the forgotten money I finally dig out a tote bag and throw my phone, subway pass, change and keys at the bottom. What a drag. Being able to afford not to carry a bag around all day is liberating and exhilarating. It’s empowering, and I feel robbed of that By the end of the summer I ache for the fall, when I can wear my rare, big-pocketed coat again.
Skirts, dresses, skinny pants, usual summer wear and feminine clothes all lack something that men’s clothes take for granted: usable-sized pockets. On a daily basis I ask myself: what is it with the tiny or fake pockets on jeans? What is this conspiracy against me living an efficient and functional life, where having functional pockets is not special treat? Sometimes I go as far as to think that it’s a conspiracy to ensure that women’s butts are unobscured for the enjoyment of bypassing men. But what I know for sure is that the lack of pockets is not feminist.
As far back as 1851, feminists have been speaking up for clothes that allow for free movement, independence and comfort as a significant part of gender equality. Pockets have been part of women’s clothing longer that you would think. In “Pockets of History: The Secret Life of an Everyday Object” fashion historian Barbara Burman explains that even in the 1600s dresses had inner bags that could be accessed through slits of the dress. These old half-bags/half-pockets were highly appreciated and often prepared with a lot of care and time.
On the turn of the 19th century most pockets on dresses disappeared. Women were not supposed to carry money and the sleeker silhouette of the time allowed for no under-clothes bag-pockets. As Burman says “the frustrations and limitations of women’s access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pockets.”
Pockets became a men’s thing. Portraits of the time often depict men with their hands in their pockets. As in many other ways it was World War II that out of necessity gave back some power, and pockets, to women. Women wore men’s pants, with men’s pockets, and although the pants stayed after the war too, the pockets magically disappeared, along with the jobs. And around this time handbags became a thing.
A lack of pockets pushed women to accessorize, a.k.a. purses, handbags, etc.. Of course bags can be a great accessory, but sometimes they just feel like a ball and chain. Mostly metaphorically, but sometimes for real:
Maya Luz design on Project Runway
“I honestly believe the fashion industry is not helping women advance,” says Camilla Olson, creative director of a fashion firm. “We [women] know clearly we need pockets to carry technology and I think it’s expected we are going to carry a purse. When we’re working we don’t carry purses around. A pocket is a reasonable thing.” Olson shared with The Atlantic that she believes the industry is inherently misogynistic today. “Fashion looks selectively at who they let in and keeps women at a certain place. It’s not helping women move forward in the workplace.”
I usually wear a backpack, not because I like it, but because I could not survive my busy day as a working, running, on-my-feet life with something like a Birkin bag, not that I could afford one anyway. Women who dress feminine (which in this case often translates to clothes with zero pockets) sometimes have to carry 2-3 bags with them. What is that if not a disadvantage? Is it possible that women’s supposed obsession with bags is actually another twisted manifestation of sexism imposed upon us?
Masculine bags (i.e. briefcases) and unisex bags (laptop bags or backpacks) are usually well organized. Inside they have little compartments, places for everything. They are great for carrying around your important papers, because of course they assume the owner is a working person, with important things to do.
In contrast, most women’s bags are just a pit that dooms you to carry around your stuff entangled in a ball of chaos. Carrying paperwork? Forget about it. Feminine bags are not ergonomical. They are not good for your back, they often can’t hold a laptop and of course your paperwork will come out crumpled on the corners, humiliating you at work. I mean seriously, boyfriends are ashamed to even hold one.
Of course, everyone can carry around a briefcase or wear those military pants with the many pockets. The point is that there are tons of limitations and disadvantages paired with feminine clothing. Did you ever notice that women’s blazers don’t have an inner breast pocket? What is the reason beside making sure our boobs look appealing to others? Or maybe we should all wear our aprons, which have pockets, but then why even bother, since the kitchen has a lot of drawers, we can keep things in there.
Why does the fashion industry want us to carry around bags instead of putting pockets on our clothes? Why can’t we have pockets that our phones fit into? The industry’s answer is that it is “still being evaluated.” Probably they want to make sure the female figure is not obscured by bumpy keys or a wallet because pockets and feminine tailoring is just not compatible.
Of course not all clothes need to have pockets. But there needs to be a choice. It’s not the pockets that deforms the clothes, it’s what we could put in them. Please trust us women that we will not stuff our pockets till they burst (and even if we did, who cares? It’s our choice). Stop infantilizing us, it’s time give us the chance to make decisions about our own body, what we wear and where we put our iPhone 6.
What other things are baffling about women’s clothes?
Find out here!