Why don't women's clothes have pockets?

Isabelle Duff discusses the issue of women’s pocket-less clothes, and how women’s wardrobes are seldom designed for practical use. Living without pockets can be an absolute nightmare, especially these days when our world is so often contained to an iPhone.

I frequently walk around the house with my iPhone tucked into my bra, or the waistband of my pyjamas. I have discovered that life is simply not worth living unless I can do my chores with a podcast running through my headphones. Today, I was listening to one of these podcasts when the phone went silent. It had been locked; apple told me to try again in one minute. My movements around the house had caused my lock code to be incorrectly entered several times, and I thought “well, this would not have happened if my clothes had pockets”. 

This mild inconvenience in turn led me to a further thought: all men’s clothes have pockets; my male friends swimming trunks have pockets. (Leading to the question: why on earth pockets are necessary on swimming trunks?) Children’s clothes have pockets. So, why don’t women’s clothes have pockets? All of a sudden, the lack of pockets in women’s clothes crystallised into a minor feminist issue. After a little bit of digging online, I quickly realised, (rather disappointingly) I was not the only one who thought this. 

After the launch of the iPhone six, the issue was picked up by a number of publications when it became clear women did not have the means to carry the new phone. I worked in a clothes shop for a number of years, and it didn’t take me long to realise that the best-selling point for a dress was not the pattern or colour, generally speaking: if a dress had pockets it was sold.

Clearly the need is there, so why don’t women’s clothes have pockets? Historically speaking women generally did have pockets. In the seventeenth century women wore pockets as a separate garment, that tied around their waists over their petticoats. These pockets were invisible but accessible, court records from the time frequently note the theft of entire pockets, when ‘pickpockets’ cut the strings attached to women’s pockets. 

One of Jack the Ripper’s victims. Annie Chapman, was found wearing a pocket containing a fine-tooth comb in a paper case. In the 1790s, things began to change (think of the high waistlines and empire line dresses worn by Jane Austen’s heroines), and handbags became the order du jour. In the 19th century, there is a notable divide over pockets. Girls, working class women, and older women normally had pockets; any women who fell outside these categories would not. Any fan of vintage clothing will be all too aware that the majority of clothes from the fifties onwards won’t have pockets.

Fast forward to the present day, when Hillary Clinton wore a white suit to accept the party nomination at the democratic national convention, it had no pockets. Kate Middleton’s clothes reveal a plethora of decorative pockets but none that one could actually use. Simply put, women’s fashions just do not acknowledge that women have an equal requirement to men for utility from their clothes. This is especially prevalent in the age of the smart phone, where one’s entire life is wrapped in a phone that is 5.44 x 2.64 inches in length and width. Sure, it’s not the most important issue on the feminist agenda, but clothing manufacturers still have a way to go to close this physical reminder of society’s divergent expectations from men and women. In short, women need pockets too.