Aesthetics over functionality

The problem with women’s pockets


Akhila Gunturu

According to The Sidekick staff writer Joanne Kim, women’s pockets reflect the pressure of gender stereotypes on female figures.

Joanne Kim, Staff Writer

Man’s great evolutionary advantage is that we evolved to use tools. The problem is that we didn’t biologically evolve a place to hold them all. 

We need to carry them somehow, and this idea of who has access to tools they need, who can walk through the world comfortably and securely, this is what I am concerned about when I talk about pockets.

According to one study, the pockets on women’s jeans only average about 5.6 inches deep and 6 inches wide. However, in men’s jeans, the pockets are about 9.1 inches deep and 6.4 inches wide. This makes the pockets in men’s jeans 48 percent longer and 6.5 percent wider than the pockets in women’s jeans. So, while less than half of women’s pockets can fit a wallet, an iPhone X or even her own hand, all men’s pockets can easily fit the same objects and more.

So where does this injustice stem from?

As seen in this video by Nation Museums Liverpool, in the 18th century, women’s pockets were quite large. In fact, they used to be a completely separate garment, and both men and women had these large pouches suspended from the waist. But sometime in the 17th century, men’s pockets began to become incorporated, sewn into the pants and waistcoat, while women’s pockets remained separate. 

However, with full skirts falling out of fashion, women were no longer able to conceal their satchels under their skirts. Instead, they had to use small bags called reticules (called so because they were just so ridiculous) that could only hold a few coins or some keys at most.

During this time, a woman had no access to property or funds and relied on her husband to carry money and other necessities, so pockets were not considered necessary. Therefore, the lack of pockets in women’s clothing at the time essentially mirrored the limitations that women faced in accessing money and owning property. 

Eventually, women’s fashion did move away from the large pocket pouches and tiny purses and began integrating their pockets as well. But the clothing with integrated pockets tended to be a feminized version of menswear. Women’s pockets were basically a smaller, more useless version of the men’s.

Presently, not much has changed. A store may have some women’s clothing with decent pockets, but the selection will be much narrower than it is for men and it may not cover what is needed. Often, a woman must choose between clothing that is fashionable and attractive and clothing that has pockets. 

Unsurprisingly, it seems that most men do not face this problem. Of the many men that I asked, from my father to my youth pastor to my friends, none of them were dissatisfied with the size of their pockets nor the fit and style of their clothing.

I will agree that the primary thing many women are looking for is the appearance of the product. Women’s clothing do not have pockets because women do not buy clothing that has pockets in a significant, market driving capacity. They buy clothing that looks good in a significant way, and so that is what is sold.

But this too is likely because fashion still does not accept pockets on women’s clothes. Women’s clothes that come with pockets do exist, but most women don’t buy them because they think they look ugly. When women say they want pockets, a lot of them are really saying they want clothes that both have pockets and look stylish. 

To a small degree, this is a problem that clothing designers can solve, but it requires instead a shift in what we think women’s clothes are supposed to look like. It is more a frustration of expectations than of availability. 

I am not saying that I think women are being unreasonable when they say they want pockets and then don’t buy the existing pants that do have pockets. There is a big social cost to ignoring fashion, and it’s much bigger for women than for men. Women are taught from a very young age that their value as a person is more based on their looks and sense of fashion than their practicality. It is very reasonable to be annoyed that current style requires women to choose between having pockets and looking fashionable.

However, we must keep in mind that it is the 21st century. Humanity is pushing the boundaries in all aspects, whether that it be through medical research, artificial intelligence or life on other planets. It is about time that women’s importance in society compared to men’s is reflected in the values we are taught and the functionality of our clothing: equal.