What has she got in her pocketses?

Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Blog, Consumer issues, Fashion, History, Living today, Women's equality issues | 4 comments

Spring and Summer 1955 Lane Bryant/Jessica H. Jaeger/flickr

How many times have you sallied forth for the evening wanting to take just a key, phone, bank card and possibly your lippy?  This usually begs the question: what shall I carry it in? Your partner, if male, faces no such dilemma. Even if he doesn’t want to take any lippy with him all he has to do is pop the bits and pieces into one of his many pockets.

See where I’m going? How often are women’s clothes designed with pockets included? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to remember where you put that little bag you put all the above-mentioned essentials in? And if said little bag doesn’t have a strap you’re going to have to carry it around all evening. 

Just what is this with women’s clothes usually being pocketless?  The standard reason is that ‘they will spoil the line of the garment’. Well as far as I’m concerned that is just showing a lack of imagination.

I have investigated the background to this sociological phenomenon.  It appears that pockets in men’s clothes started appearing in the late 1600s.  While these were often sewn directly into men’s garments – as they still are today – women had to make do with wrapping a pouch with a string around their waists and tucking it away under their petticoats. 

However, these pouch-like items were much harder to access than pockets or handbags. Back in the 17th century, women wore a gown with a petticoat.  Underneath that was an under-petticoat, and underneath that was a shift. A woman’s makeshift pocket was hung under her dress but over the under-petticoat, making it logistically difficult to access unless she was nearly nude – which wasn’t really acceptable in those days.

Peasant dress/Nic/flickr

Things improved slightly in the 1700s.  The pouches women used became more of a fashion item and started to be embroidered and embellished, and women’s dresses began to be made with slits, which allowed access to the pouches hanging under the dress.  

Sadly, things went into reverse in the 1800s; women’s fashion changed from voluminous outfits that could conceal virtually anything to slimmed down lines that showed off the figure. The new silhouette was more Grecian inspired, prohibiting a bulky pouch that would stick out from beneath and spoil the look.  Enter the purse, or reticule; this was a small, decorated bag that a woman would carry with her.  The richer you were, the smaller the reticule – the implication being that you had no need to carry much stuff. Your husband had the money and your servants took charge of bulky items.

The good news is that later in the century things finally started to change; dress patterns started to include instructions for sewing pockets into skirts to increase women’s independence. Then as we move into the 20th century women started wearing trousers, so pockets in these simply brought them in line with the now long-established tradition for men. Ironically, both world wars had a useful unintended consequence (remember them?). The work wear produced for women had sizeable, practical, useful pockets sewn in.


Unfortunately, wartime fashion did not guarantee pockets in women’s clothes for ever. In the 1980s, for example, there was a trend for side zips and extremely tight, figure hugging trousers, and many of the styles then had no pockets, once again to maintain an uninterrupted line.

None of this has been helped with the ever-changing styles and modes around women’s handbags. They veer from being mini suitcases to something which can’t even hold a mobile phone, and once again the humble pocket gets side-lined.

I was delighted to find that there is a growing appetite for pockets in wedding dresses; the main thing is to stay focused, claim our pocket rights and give the lie to Christian Dior’s view that: ‘Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.’


  1. Who remembers pockets in your knickers to keep a hanky in?

    (It sounds so implausible that I wonder if I’ve just imagined it…)
    Great article Barbara!

  2. Who remembers pockets in knickers in which to keep a hanky?

    ( This sounds so implausible that I wonder if I’ve only imagined it…)

    A great article Barbara!

    A Happy Christmas to all the Dames . Look forward to 2020!

    • I remember reading about such knickers! Happy Christmas Joyce!

  3. Yes, yes, yes! So true and so maddening that it’s so difficult to find clothes with pockets… what drives really mad is when you think there are pockets , but the openings are sown up, it’s just for decoration.
    How bonkers is that, an imitation of a functional feature just for decoration . I read somewhere that one of the reasons for Victoria Beckham’s dress’ success is that they usually have pockets , good for her!

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