Pockets and Gender Equality


My beloved grandmother, God rest her soul, frequently told her progeny “I never buy any clothes without pockets.” A woman of principle, she would not even submit to a nightgown sans poches. Of course, Grandma also re-used wrapping paper and was known to brew two or more cups from each teabag. I probably rolled my eyes a little during my adolescence, but eventually acknowledged the wisdom in my Grandmother’s pockets.

After all, functional garments like aprons, coveralls, lab coats, and the like are thoughtfully well-equipped in the pocket department. The first is often associated with female domesticity, and thus an object of derision. The rest are occasionally unisex, but the ones I could use are rarely to be found in my size. (Trust me. I really scour the racks at the Tractor Supply Company, or TSC, as it is more commonly called.)

Men’s clothes for any occasion or season nearly all feature at least two fully-functional pockets, whereas we ladies consider ourselves lucky to get one postage stamp-sized decorative breast pocket, skin-tight backside welts or the occasional minuscule compartment in an athletic waistband.

Sure, you could just tell me that we women are vain and don’t want to obscure our feminine silhouettes with bulky cargo. And I could also just tell you that’s utter balderdash. Even the most glamorous women have stuff to do, and concomitant things to carry. Think about it. How strange is it that in the era of women’s empowerment, after at least three waves of feminist thought, women still tend to pay more for less in terms of clothing, and often dump small fortunes on handbags to make up for lost carrying capacity? It’s even stranger when we realize that it was not always so.

My and my Grandmother’s completely inexpert, scientifically non-rigorous and totally generalized laywomen’s perusal of historical fashion suggests that pockets for women have been common and capacious, except in feminist western society since the sexual revolution. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I smell a conspiracy. Further research is definitely in order. In the meantime, I’m sticking to my (vaguely informed, highly opinionated) guns.

To the fashionable women who think that long skirts hold women back, have you never known the empowerment of the deep, cavernous pockets these frocks can conceal?  For example, take this scarlet number that I wore to a wedding in central Mexico two years ago.

IMG_2556Magnanimous pockets. Munificent pockets! Perfect for all my essentials, like a Swiss army knife, brass knuckles and hip flask smartphone, business cards and lipstick, or whatever other baubles modern women are expected to carry. Of course, one of the many joys of good pockets is their discretion. You’ll never know what I have in there unless I want you to know. You might not even know the pockets exist at all. Woe to the knave who supposes me ill-equipped in my evening attire!

I’m not the only one pining for a good pocket. Christina is a confident professional who has built a successful career and a stellar reputation in real estate. Recently, she was installed as a director of a prestigious professional association. For the special occasion, she wore another gown distinguished by its pockets, which became the subject of a lively conversation amongst her colleagues. Turning to one of the gentlemen there, she asked “Todd, can you even imagine what it’s like for us ladies? Imagine if suits didn’t have pockets! What would you do?”

Todd replied instantly “I would have to carry a purse,” and there was much mirth, as indeed there should be! Wouldn’t that look silly? Or rather, would it? Also, doesn’t that already look silly?

Todd’s was a lighthearted comment, but perhaps one with profound significance for gender parity.  Pockets are convenient, practical, even empowering. So why it is that major designers and clothing manufacturers don’t really want women to have them, or at least not large ones? Ironically, for a while there in the late 90’s-early 2000’s, it seemed to me as if only committed tomboys or those women with free time, sewing skills, and a suitable disregard for contemporary sexual politics could get decent pockets. Just another indication that the capable–not to say old-fashioned–women of this world still rise, in much the same way that cream always rises to the top.

To be sure, pocket-privation is not quite as egregious as foot-binding or corsets, but there’s nothing new under the sun. Sartorial misogyny endures, and perhaps more insidiously than in centuries gone by.  For the past few decades in western society, modern women have subjected themselves to a stupidly constraining fashion M.O. which showcases our hips nicely but obliges us to carry handbags, or perhaps hang on the arm of some deep-pocketed man who might benevolently behave as custodian of our property. How kind.

Now I’m no hero, and perhaps these genes have gone soft since my Grandmother’s generation. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my closet there are a few pocket-less bodycon dresses. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoy the pop of color and sculptural interest which a well-constructed handbag can add to an ensemble. I particularly appreciate the hands-free, comforting presence of my everyday sturdy brown cross-body.

But those are basically artistic inclinations. As a human body moving about in the world, I admit that even the best purses are clumsy and vulnerable. They tie up our hands or fall off our shoulders whenever we need to stoop or bend. We often have to put them down, along with all our valuables, in order to perform the simplest manual task. They’re easy targets for thieves, and they collect forgotten weight which we then needlessly lug around for indefinite periods of time. In short, handbags literally hold us back.

But don’t despair! There is good news. It looks like wide-leg pants are soon to make a  smashing comeback, and one can hope they’ll have pockets bigger than those which skinny jeans allow. Also, on a recent afternoon my sister and I stopped by Lord and Taylor to make a “quick return,” but nearly an hour later we found ourselves still there, enthralled, nearly giddy as we fondled the pockets of gown after gown. At least in the formal dress department, pockets are apparently the rule, where they were once the exception.

Maybe, just maybe, I am in the minority to want a Swiss army knife always on my person. However, most of us can imagine the scrumptious luxury of leaving the clutch purse at home to hold both a cocktail and an hors d’oeuvre at the same time! For now, at least, we’re winning this one little battle, and the victory is sweet.

Red cabbage