The Power of Pockets - Their History & Meaning Through the Years

I have to admit, when I find a dress and it has pockets, while still fitting well and looks flattering, I do a little happy dance. I’ve never liked pockets in my pants, in fact, I always had them sown shut. They never laid right and they were NEVER deep enough to hold anything anyway. I never got it. They always seemed pretty pointless.

But men used their pockets every day to hold their keys, their money clip, their wallet, or whatever else they might need. But then I found some dresses that really made a difference. I could throw my Chapstick, my gum, my car key, a business card or two if I needed them, and maybe even my cell phone. And they were still stylish. I had most of what I needed to run to a meeting without having to drag along my purse or bag. Grad my planner and other than that, my hands could be free.

I never knew there was such a deep history and surprisingly political meaning behind pockets. Pockets have seen many makeovers over the years, and their standard presence on both men’s and women’s clothing is relatively recent. In fact, their history is rife with class and gender politics. Pockets first began appearing on waistcoats and trousers about 500 years ago. As you probably already know, about half the population wasn’t wearing trousers back then.

In Medieval times, both men and women both wore bags that tied around their waists and filled them with whatever bits and bobs they needed. In the late 1800s, when the Victorian era saw trends shift toward slim skirts and tiny waists, pockets became smaller and more ornate — and basically useless.

Pockets had multiple meanings and sent a variety of messages. What you had in your pockets indicated how ready you are to be in the world (who wants empty pockets?). It was considered scandalous, vulgar, bad manners, and rude to have your hands in your pockets. The Suffragettes made a political statement with ensuring there were “plenty of pockets” in their suits.

Boyish cuts and menswear-inspired looks gained popularity in the late ’20s, and the trend remained somewhat controversial and off-the-radar until 1933, when Women’s Wear Daily became the first big name to address the trend in an article called “Will Women Wear Trousers?”

size of pockets

Women’s pockets are almost half the size of men’s ones. On average, men’s pockets are 3” deeper than women’s pockets. The average women’s jeans pocket measures 5.6 inches down and 6 inches across, while the average men’s pocket measures 9.1 inches down and 6.4 inches across. The pocket disparity battle continues. 

The pockets project, however, seeks to address this pocket size disparity with a collection of dresses designed with pockets at least 8.5 inches deep, putting an end to endlessly rummaging through our bag to find business cards. Because, after all, women deserve deep pockets too.

Join Email List

Want to stay connected? Join Kendal’s Life Enrichment and Engagement Email List to receive future emails directly.