“I love your dress!”
“Thanks, it has pockets!”
Almost every female over the age of 16 has either overheard or been a member of this conversation. The word “pockets” is said at a decibel that makes the ears of all women in the vicinity perk up. Pockets, you say?
Yes, pockets. The question then arises, why are females so freaking excited to own clothing with pockets? Let me tell you why: because too many of our clothes don’t have any.
The impracticality of fashionable clothing hearkens back to the age of Catherine de Medici and Louis XIV and the dawn of high-heeled shoes, a trend almost as impractical as fake pockets. High-heels were a status symbol for aristocratic men, and eventually women, because only people who didn’t have to work and could sit on a chaise lounge eating cake all day could afford to have such ridiculously useless shoes. I’m looking at you, Marie Antoinette — bet you her clothes didn’t have pockets either.
Although they appeared in women’s clothing as early as the 17th century, pockets never became standard in female fashion the way they have with men’s clothing. The end of the 18th century saw the rise of reticules, or small bags designed for evening wear, to accommodate newer, pocket-incompatible skirt fashions. This phenomenon, coupled with the misogynistic idea that women should rely on their husbands to carry money and other necessities in their luxuriously-roomy manly pockets, means women have been denied sensibility by the fashion gods for centuries.
Handbag sales in the U.S. totaled $11.5-billion in 2015. In a capitalist business model, no pockets for women makes perfect sense: if women don’t have pockets, or if the pockets they do have are so tiny as to render them essentially useless, they will have to spend money on bags to keep their personal belongings in.
Alexandra Mootoosamy, a fourth-year student at St. Thomas University, knows this all too well.
“Anytime I want to travel light, be it for a walk or going to the bars, I don’t want to be carrying a handbag around,” she said.
“But my phone and wallet, a.k.a. the essentials, don’t fit in any of my jeans pockets because they are either ridiculously small or non-existent.”
Mootoosamy said sometimes she gives her belongings to a guy friend to carry when she goes out, which makes her feel dependent.
“It just adds another level of stress and I sometimes feel like I’m a burden for asking, especially if they already have stuff in their pockets,” she said.
The average depth of women’s front jean pockets is roughly three inches. For comparison, an iPhone 6 is 5.44 inches tall. Back pockets are also often too shallow, with an average depth of 5 inches when flat. And when you are wearing pants stylized with lots of rips? Sometimes the pockets themselves have holes in them, rendering them utterly functionless.
Third-year student Abbie LeBlanc describes her frustration with the notorious fake pocket, which she said makes her feel lied to.
“I don’t know what the logic would be, to keep the pants looking like you don’t have pockets? It’s like one of those things like women don’t poop, women don’t sweat, women don’t have pockets.”
The struggle extends not just to everyday wear, but to formal events.
“Most dresses or skirts don’t have pockets … so I need to try and find something to hold, car keys, or a phone, and … you wind up putting them in weird places, like in boots and in bras,” LeBlanc said.
“I haven’t actually tried buying men’s pants but I’ve actually considered trying on men’s pants just for the pockets,” she added.
Cecelia Asbridge, a social work student, said she understands the pocket-less struggle, but sees why the big roomy pockets men are blessed with don’t translate as well to women’s clothing.
“I can kind of get it for a fashion perspective, because women’s jeans are typically tighter and it’s kind of awkward to have a deep pocket because you don’t necessarily want something to bulge, but for more utilitarian purposes, it just doesn’t really make sense,” she said.
The essence of fashion has always been something more fanciful than functional. From purposefully destroyed clothes to the outlandish get-ups seen on fashion-week runways (think Victoria’s Secret’s ridiculously giant angel wings), fashion seems to be more about fantasy than real life. The question now is what comes next?
In a world where women are increasingly active and independent members of society and the workforce, and popular clothing trends lean more toward comfort, like athleisure, will fashion designers start to incorporate usable pockets into women’s pants? Will looser silhouettes lead the way for freedom of movement and freedom from needing to carry a handbag?
One can only hope.