They say a woman never travels light. And I think the lack of pockets are to blame. How did we come to this? Isn’t our relationship with pockets a loyal one? For the longest time, we’ve slipped our hands into this hidden pouch, sometimes in a hurry to find a ring to surprise the fiancé, who is waiting or to quickly stuff hard-earned money inside, for safe-keeping.
We’ve been there. When conversations turned awkward or when the weather became cold, our hands have retreated to the safety of our pockets.
My favourite, sneaking in free candy into my pockets to smuggle them to loved ones, later. Then there are times when I tap my pocket and find the reassuring touch of my wallet or car keys that I thought I had misplaced. Bereft of pockets, I can’t make spontaneous plans to go out.
In fact, according to Asma Nahim, a 22-year-old Indian expat and graphic designer based in Dubai, not having pockets has affected her state of mind.
I am trying to lead a more active lifestyle and after spending hours glued to the screen I make some time to go for a walk. Without any pockets, even these walks feel stressful.
“I get irritated when I don’t have pockets in my pants or shirts, especially when I need them the most. I am trying to lead a more active lifestyle and after spending hours glued to the screen I make some time to go for a walk. Without any pockets, even these walks feel stressful. I have to constantly hold my phone, my keys and the access card to my building.”
Having pockets is not enough
Nahim puts in extra effort to substitute her clothes without pockets with those that have them.
“Pockets are the focus of my attire now and I look for clothes that have them. This also means that there are several attires that I can’t wear. I can’t wear skirts, which I love, because most don’t have pockets. Even Indian outfits never have pockets and I need pockets for my earphones and my phone. It’s disappointing not to have them.”
When it comes to changing to a more practical dressing style, as per some sources, it is said that women started changing their dressing habits and wore pants and overalls, with pockets included, as far back as in the 1800s.
The most well-known transition in clothes happened after World War I and II, when women took to industrial work, which required them to wear pants.
Old family photographs are a testament to this change in my family, who also faced difficult economic conditions from the war that had spread from Europe to South Asia.
In order to support the family, some of my aunts, who are now in their late 80s, ventured out for work and they couldn’t do so in their traditional clothes, like the saree or salwar kurta. They found it hard to find pants readily available with pockets, so they wore their father’s, husband’s or brother’s clothes.
So, do I count myself lucky that I live in an era of women’s clothes with pockets? It turns out that having pockets is still not enough, according to a fashion enthusiast and blogger, Sadaf Hassan, an Indian resident based in California, USA.
I hate the pockets they have on women’s clothes in general. They’re so tiny. It’s really inconvenient. Clothing companies need to do something about pockets now.
“I hate the pockets they have on women’s clothes in general. They’re so tiny. It’s really inconvenient. Clothing companies need to do something about pockets now. I once did some research on the history of women’s wear from the early 1900’s to today. I found that pockets that aren’t functional date back to the time when women went out of their houses only if they were accompanied by a man, so they didn’t need to carry anything,” Hassan says.
Indeed, pockets in women’s clothes arose when there was a need for it.
In 1895 The New York Times published an article on women’s bicycle costumes that had special pockets made to hold their pistols, marking the beginning of the discussion around women’s safety in public as they began to venture unaccompanied.
This also meant that women needed pockets, just as much as men did.
So why are pockets disappearing?
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that handbags are the answer to the pocket problem, but a purse or a little sling bag has helped me move around with more freedom.
In fact, 24-year-old Egyptian actress and content creator, Maryam Hassanein, who travels between Kuwait and London, believes, “Fashion, mostly fast fashion, has largely moved past the pockets discourse by having totes take over. Having pockets or not hasn’t affected my fashion choices much, but I appreciate day dresses with pockets more than those without.
When I’m in Cairo or London, carrying around larger bags is more of an ideal solution for big city life. I’ve noticed these patterns apply to both men and women, but they are more skewed towards women.
“It is important to me to have pockets somewhere, anywhere. Walking around in big cities means I need my card or phone to be instantly available for public transport and payments. As someone who wears leggings, a lot of the time to find anything that has pockets is difficult; at best, there'll be one.
"The easiest solution is naturally to be carrying a bag. I think in cities, where more people rely on cars as their mode of transport, smaller bags tend to be a more suitable option. Larger items are left in cars. When I’m in Cairo or London, carrying around larger bags is more of an ideal solution for big city life. I’ve noticed these patterns apply to both men and women, but they are more skewed towards women.”
Some have found simple solutions to the problem. Such as Emmah Njoki, a 38-year-old Kenyan expat based in Sharjah. “It’s very difficult to manage without pockets.
Sometimes, I don’t mind the lack of pockets on my clothes. I always ensure I have my bag or at least a small purse with me when I am running errands. As long as bags are around, I don’t really need pockets.
Sometimes, I don’t mind the lack of pockets on my clothes, so I use external pockets, like a waist pack or I hook pouches to my belt loop. It looks trendy and it helps me grab the things I need quickly without digging into my bag. But I always ensure I have my bag or at least a small purse with me when I am running errands. As long as bags are around, I don’t really need pockets.”
Sarah Jamshid, a 17-year-old student, from the Indian High School, Dubai, aspires to be a fashion designer and she is not a fan of bags. She says that having pockets helps her cope with the demands of a fast lifestyle.
A good alternative that I turn to, especially for the winter, is a coat or jacket or a cardigan that has deep pockets. You can also stitch pockets into clothes you love. Velcro pockets are quite easy to sew onto any dress and they’re quite affordable.
“When there aren’t any pockets that’s when I have to carry a bag, and that is a burden to carry. It is really hard to find women’s clothes with pockets in them. And when the clothes do have pockets they’re either just made for decoration or they’re too small to fit anything in them.
"A good alternative that I turn to, especially for the winter, is a coat or jacket or a cardigan that has deep pockets. You can also stitch pockets into clothes you love. Velcro pockets are quite easy to sew onto any dress and they’re quite affordable. Inner lining pockets in jackets help to keep things like sanitary napkins when you are on your way to the washrooms, in public places or even the office or at school.”
Reaching the depth of pockets
A quick Google search will tell you how every pocket is stitched with a purpose. The bag-like utility of pockets on cargo pants helped soldiers store maps and other large items on person, when they travelled. The snug embrace of tiny pockets inside regular pockets would secure coins, when people rode horses.
According to Levi Strauss & Co., a company which has been making jeans from the 1800s, the first blue jeans had two front pockets along with a tiny pocket created for a pocket watch. Later on, a left back pocket was added to their jeans in 1901, which lasted for several decades.
It was only by the 20th century that women wearing trousers, complete with pockets, became popular, as more women needed clothes with utility, while supporting the war efforts.
The erstwhile queen of England, Elizabeth II, who always carried a handbag to match her dresses, also wore her military uniform that had pockets on the coat, when the late monarch served in World War II.
Ironically, the same wars that drove the innovation of pockets also caused their decline.
According to fabric manufacturer Lycra, who have said on their website that wartime rationing reduced the supply of silk and rubber as it was “redirected… for military use in parachutes and tyres”. In order to replace these natural fibres, nylon, a synthetic fibre was introduced in 1938.
During the 1970s, the apparel industry, including popular fashion houses like Calvin Klein, began making women’s jeans with Lycra, a fabric that provided elasticity to clothes. This made jeans stretchy and gave women a better fit, making the pants extremely useful in pop culture.
By the 1990’s, several pop artists wore skinny jeans made with Lycra that did not have pockets.
Enter fake pockets, which make me wonder why? Why have fake pockets if there’s no use?
“People like faux or fake pockets on jeans or denim because, visually, it just makes sense. The idea of faux pockets really took shape for me in the early 2010s, and I think has since phased out.
"I have read that denim was first used by labourers as overalls many decades before it became mainstream fashion, so naturally, it had many pockets then. I think the function of clothing has shifted more towards comfort and figure shaping over convenience, which meant pants could have faux pockets just for aesthetics,” Hassanein says.
Krishita Chhatwani, a fashion design student based in Dubai once spotted a jacket she wanted to buy, which was dotted with fake pockets.
Like an embroidery design or sequins, fake pockets are part of detailing on the dress, not really to give the clothes utility.
She explains, “Most fast fashion brands will design jackets with fake pockets. When they make clothes without pockets or add fake pockets it’s because designers want to make a style statement. Like an embroidery design or sequins, fake pockets are part of detailing on the dress, not really to give the clothes utility.”
Are practical pockets important?
Hassan says that pockets disappeared from women’s clothes to make clothes more figure hugging, which could explain why the pockets on my skinny jeans can only fit just a parking ticket.
This may have begun between 2014 and 2016, when the Lycra brand launched their ‘athleisure’ collection or a range of leggings and pants made with the stretchy fibre that had fake or skinny pockets. This makes me miss the traditional pocket. Especially when my skinny pockets eject my phone, every time I sit down. For some even bags don’t seem to be a solution.
I think women get so used to holding stuff. When I go to work I hold all my things in my hand and even buying coffee is difficult. Sometimes I’m juggling my phone, my ID cards, all in my hands. I can’t put these in my bag because I need these things more frequently. Now, I look for pants and shirts with deep pockets.
“I think women get so used to holding stuff. When I go to work I hold all my things in my hand and even buying coffee is difficult. Sometimes I’m juggling my phone, my ID cards, all in my hands. I can’t put these in my bag because I need these things more frequently. Now, I look for pants and shirts with deep pockets,” Nahim says.
I love putting my hands inside my pockets. It makes me feel confident and composed. Most of my friends have this habit too. When I wear dresses with pockets, it surprises my friends, because they’re hard to find.
Pockets have rescued Chhatwani, who feels awkward with her hands sometimes.
“I love putting my hands inside my pockets. It makes me feel confident and composed. Most of my friends have this habit too. When I wear dresses with pockets, it surprises my friends, because they’re hard to find. When I design clothes I always include pockets because pockets should be made an essential part of women’s clothing.”