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The bemusing tale of ‘pant pockets’

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Five U.S. Congressional Secretaries in overalls. Image Credit: The New York Times photo archive via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Public Domain

I have always wondered: why do I keep losing my phone, keys and other belongings? I have to take care of my belongings carefully especially if I am not carrying a purse with me. I’m sure other women can relate to my dilemma. 

The ridiculous reason is that our pants don’t have pockets! Women’s clothing, compared to men’s, come with smaller pockets — or none at all.

There is empirical data to back up this well-known anecdote. A study done on 80 pairs of 32 inches waist  jeans shows that for women, pockets are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s. They also found that as a result of being smaller, utility decreases. Less than half of the brands provide pockets large enough to fit a wallet which is specifically designed to fit in a jean’s front pocket, and less than 40% can fit an iPhone X. For other brands, the number goes even lower as while 20% can fit a Samsung Galaxy, just 5% can fit a Google Pixel smartphone.

Is this trend simply a coincidence amongst all clothing brands? No, the trend goes back to the 17th century when women wore a separate cloth pouch around their waists as pockets to match their Victorian gowns. This represented  the notion that women had no access to wealth, so they wouldn’t really need functional pockets. In the early 20th century, there was  a welcome change as Marlene Dietrich, a French pilot, entered the fashion scene with her big pocket trousers. The trousers soon faded away as figure-hugging skinny silhouettes became the new fashion trend, which again: had no room for pockets.

Image credit: AhmadArdity via Pixabay. Licensed under Simplified Pixabay License

Christian Dior famously quotes, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” Designers focus more on the visual appeal of clothing, accentuating colors and textures, rather than the functionality of the piece. In addition, today’s fast fashion churns out new styles at such a high rate to keep up with the current trends that there is no time and effort to focus on utility to add pockets to women’s clothes. 
Women need to carry a purse with them everywhere to make up for the lack of pockets. Although inconvenient and expensive for us, accessories like purses and handbags are a huge revenue generator for the fashion industry. Recent survey findings reveal that an American woman spends as much as $160 on a handbag and owns about 11 handbags on an average. Unsurprisingly, the handbag industry, valued at 12 billion dollars in 2020,  doesn’t support functional pockets for women either.

Image credit: skeeze via Pixabay. Licensed under Simplified Pixabay License

There are ongoing rants on numerous social media platforms from twitter to reddit voicing the need for comfortable pockets. Hashtags declaring #womendeservepockets and calling for #realpockets have gone viral. Luckily this trend has already begun to shift. A few designers have launched specific platforms for clothes with bigger pockets like Poche Posh and eShakti. Although they are not as  well-known as Levi’s or Ralph Lauren, these companies are paving the way towards a more utilitarian design in women’s fashion. This is the beginning of a long-awaited change in fashion so that comfortable pockets need not be a luxury rather they can become the norm, irrespective of gender.

About the Author

Ankita Roy is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia working with bean roots. She plays mommy to two kittens and can whip up a curry to fire your taste buds in no time. True to her cooking skills, she enjoys trying out new cuisines to satisfy her passion for everything flavorful. She is an executive member of the Indian Student Association. You can reach her at ankita.roy@uga.edu. More from Ankita Roy

About the Author

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