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Pockets... Full of secrets


I love pockets! They are so practical as well as being great features on coats, jackets, dresses, skirts and blouses.


Last year, I designed a silk dress for a lovely client and one of the extra features she asked for was a set of side pockets. So, without hesitation, I got straight to it. To give it a little bit of flash, she also wanted a contrasting colour: Red.


Recently, I heard a radio interview by a film director Céline Sciamma, about her film based on 18th Century female artists and her relationship with her sitter. She also gave a very interesting taste of the history of women’s pockets during that period right up to the present day.

Interesting…so I began to research it myself…


THE HISTORY OF WOMAN’S POCKETS is surprisingly political and has come to signify the freedom and independence that women throughout history have fought to gain.


During the Middle Ages, men and women carried around little pouches that were used for their essentials. So far, so good. Equality, where pockets were concerned.

In the 17th century the idea of sewing pouches right into the clothes, enabled the wearer to conceal the items keeping them close to their bodies. Pockets were born.

It was much easier for men to access their pockets, and not so for women who wore 2 layers undergarments ( knickers in our generation) and petticoats . The women’s pockets were tied around their waist…underneath all of the frills! They were invisible however, accessible.

As women fashion evolved in the 1790’s the pocket slowly began to disappear as more figure hugging dresses came into fashion. Women had little choice but to have small decorative bags called reticules, (that were very small).

As women in the Western world had no rights to property nor money, they was little need for pockets. The men carried all their valuables, however, women had nothing to hide

(no secrets!)

Its is rumoured that during the French 🇫🇷 Revolution, both the external and internal pockets were banished to prevent women’s clothing from concealing revolutionary materials.

Pockets were still essential for girls, older women and working women's dresses during 19th Century. By the latter part of the century, there were campaigns led by the Rational Dress Society, fighting for all women’s clothing to be more functional.


The arrival of the 20th Century: The Pocket Revolution


In 1910, the 'Suffragette suit’ with up to 6 pockets became the rage.


When World War 1 started, women turned to more practical clothing, with large pockets (trousers were worn by then), that they had campaigned for years before.


Look at Chanel’s 1920’s sailor trouser designs? Shock! Horror! She wore trousers with pockets made for women. In her later years, she did regret it, due to the loss of the feminine look in her opinion. Nevertheless, she was the fashionable pioneer designer, who helped pave the way for women's pockets (equality!).

However, the patriarchy struck again! Post-war, women were expected to show their femininity, by wearing slimmer clothing which then didn't have room for practical pockets. As the handbag industry began to grow, pockets were no longer seen as an essential for women.


Even throughout the 20th and now 21st Century, was/is there still an inequality with men’s and women’s pockets? Have a look at the size of your jeans pocket and compare to a man’s jeans pocket? I’ll leave you to make your own mind up about the size. Equality?


Still, who does not love a bag? Check out the new exhibition at the V & A Museum (online now whilst we are still in lockdown).


https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/bags


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