Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

Womenswear is littered with fake pockets that don’t open, or shallow pockets that can hardly hold more than a paperclip. If women’s clothes have pockets at all, they are often smaller and just fit less than men’s pockets do. And when we talk about pockets, we are talking about who has access to the tools they need. Who can walk through the world comfortably and securely.

Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear; a six-part series within 99% Invisible, looking at clothingEpisodes will be released on Tuesdays and Fridays from September 25th through October 12th.

For Pockets, Avery Trufelman spoke with her college friend Piers Gelly; Hannah Carlson, lecturer at the Rhode Island School of Design; Clarissa Esguerra, associate curator of costume and textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and dress historian Barbara Burman.

Credits

Production & Music

Articles of Interest was created by Avery Trufelman; this episode was edited by Katie Mingle and Joe Rosenberg; Sasami Ashworth wrote the theme songs for the show; Rhae Royal made the rest of the music; Graham Hacia did the fact checking; Sharif Youssef did the mix; photography by Matty Lynn Barnes; Roman Mars is the executive producer.

Special thanks to Piers Gelly for raising this topic on his podcast Cellar Door, as well as to Delaney Hall, Emmett Fitzgerald, Vivian Le, Kurt Kohlstedt and the rest of the 99pi team.

Comments (26)

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    1. drlandsnark

      What I came here to comment. The expert at the museum needs to stop telling people this unless it can be backed up with references to the use at the time. (Which is possible, regardless of the etymology of the words themselves–we often use words that sound similar, or adopt one term into common usage partly because it sounds like another.)

      “Ridicule,” according to my dictionary, stems from the Latin root for laughing.

  1. This was an excellent episode and so far a great series. I hope y’all find a reason, or way, to make more than six Articles of Interest.

  2. Nick K

    What song was at the end? With the lyrics

    “A pocket

    A piece of paper

    words from yesterday”

    Thank you

  3. Brian Dicey

    There’s a clip of haunting & beautiful music in the AOI episodes…. I want to hear more!
    The lyric goes something like, “a pocket, a paper, a piece of yesterday…”
    Who’s the artist? Didn’t have any luck searching the names listed in the credits.
    Thanks!

  4. Jacob Hitt

    Hi. Was the song used at the end of the episode an original production? Might be my mind playing tricks on me but it sounds very familiar.

  5. Rob

    I’m really enjoying this series: the episodes are short and snappy, entertaining and informative. But this is a series where some visuals would be really helpful – it seems a shame that you don’t have full accompanying blog posts as you do with normal 99PI episodes.

  6. In The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (via Toad, who has dressed as a washerwoman to break out of prison) has a great little summation of the importance of pockets to social standing in 1908:

    He gave the name of the station that he knew to be nearest to the village of which Toad Hall was the principal feature, and mechanically put his fingers, in search of the necessary money, where his waistcoat pocket should have been. But here the cotton gown, which had nobly stood by him so far, and which he had basely forgotten, intervened, and frustrated his efforts. In a sort of nightmare he struggled with the strange uncanny thing that seemed to hold his hands, turn all muscular strivings to water, and laugh at him all the time; while other travellers, forming up in a line behind, waited with impatience, making suggestions of more or less value and comments of more or less stringency and point. At last—somehow—he never rightly understood how—he burst the barriers, attained the goal, arrived at where all waistcoat pockets are eternally situated, and found—not only no money, but no pocket to hold it, and no waistcoat to hold the pocket!

    To his horror he recollected that he had left both coat and waistcoat behind him in his cell, and with them his pocket-book, money, keys, watch, matches, pencil-case—all that makes life worth living, all that distinguishes the many-pocketed animal, the lord of creation, from the inferior one-pocketed or no-pocketed productions that hop or trip about permissively, unequipped for the real contest.

  7. corky

    I am loving this series! This one hits on one of my pet peeves.
    as a female who will not carry a purse, I am constantly trying to find jeans, pants, and shorts with pockets big enough to carry a wallet, keys and cell phone. This drives me crazy. One brand of jeans had these ridiculously small front pockets that would not hold anything. The explanation on the website was that the pockets were designed to be more flattering! But why put pockets at all if they won’t hold anything!

  8. Dana

    You’re killing me with a MAJOR missing piece – purses are AMAZING and men aren’t allowed to carry them. I have loved being able to drag my purse around with me since I was a kid. I am like a turtle that wants to drag my house everywhere. Which will not fit in any pocket, any gendered clothing.

    Men are ALWAYS handing me their wallets and phones to carry because their pants are too tight for our giant phones these days anyway. I am not saying there aren’t some issues and the historical stuff is great context, but give me my mega bag I drag everywhere, full of food and water bottles, eyeglass wipes, and pocketknife.

    Shout out to my husband who has more than once been teased by stangers for carrying it for me when my hands were full. It’s another type of misogyny, of course, people hate women so much that they mock a man for taking on any aspect of womenhood, but also, he doesn’t get sunburnt because I always have sunscreen.

  9. Dan

    Another comment looking for more info on that song. From the credits I think it’s by Sasami Ashworth but I can’t find this tune on her SoundCloud or any other channel. Is it a full-length track, and if so where can we hear/buy it?

  10. Thank you for this episode! While I have recently found and am frequently patronizing a new-to-me purveyor of dresses-with-useful-pockets, the lack of a place to put things for most of my life has always been frustrating. My 1.5 to daughter was wearing her older brother’s hand me down pants today and was so delighted with the pockets; none from her girl cousins have any.

    Once, a female colleague and I were in the service corridor of our labs trying to fix a power supply when our Nobel-Laureate boss came by to chat and offer his advice. He started saying how he has always believed every experimental physicist should have a pocket knife with them (we needed a small screwdriver at that moment.). It was summer, and I stood up to show him the fake pockets on my Capri pants and explained a little of what it was to operate as a woman in this world. He was (rightfully) stunned and had never considered such a thing before.

  11. I wondered if you were going to get around to Rudofsky sooner or later. My copy of “Are Clothes Modern?” even has provenance — it’s Elia Kazan’s copy.

  12. What’s also interesting to me (sorry these are coming in bits and pieces) is how pockets can interact with other objects.

    Example: Breast pockets and 8″x10″ paper. Fold a letter in thirds, like you would for an envelope. Now fold it in half the opposite way. It fits a breast pocket almost perfectly. Tough for me to believe that isn’t by design.

  13. Peter Willis

    I felt disappointed by this report. It ignores the modern aspect of pockets that I found out after googling for a half hour.

    Men still have useless pockets. The “coin pocket” in jeans is actually for a pocketwatch. So why do we still have it? It’s not because fashion simply couldn’t do without it – it’s because we found another utility for it, namely, holding coins. If it had no utility, it would have been faded out, since mostly only jeans had the pocket. Now even regular trousers have a small inner cloth pocket that serves much the same modern function. And this is adaptation to market forces is what causes women’s clothes to not have pockets.

    Women’s pockets are nonexistent because women’s fashion is intense. Go into any clothing store (I notice it especially in thrift stores) and you will notice there is between 2 and 10 times more clothing for women than men. This isn’t because women need more clothes, like they’re constantly falling apart, or because they’re losing their clothes all over the place. It’s because the women’s clothing fashion industry responds to a demand for constantly new and different articles of clothing. Our culture reinforces the idea that women must always be fashionable and attractive, and if a woman isn’t buying the newest fashions, she isn’t fashionable. That’s been true for a long time, but industrialization has lowered the cost of new fashions significantly, and consumers no longer focus as much on quality. The result is a lot more affordable, fashionable clothes.

    If you talk to women’s clothing designers today, they _want_ to put pockets in their clothes, but they are often forced to remove them. Why? One reason is cost. Because designers have to churn out new articles all the time, they fight a very narrow window between the cost to produce clothes, and the consumer’s available money to buy new clothes. Often, the only way to churn out a new clothing line every season is to reduce the cost of production – namely, spending less on material and speeding up production. Cut out the pockets and you save on materials and production costs, and thus save money.

    Another common reason is that it is indeed hard to relocate a pocket on a garment and not make it look ridiculous. Imagine a big fat pocket on your calf, or the front of your thigh, or the back. Or even on a dress, putting the pocket at or above the hip. Now put something inside it. Now I have either thick hips, or these weird lumps all over my body. This is not the aesthetic most women are looking for. Not only is it awkward to relocate pockets, it makes the clothing look weird. So you can try to use the same old front-thigh-hidden pocket, but if it makes the clothing hang weird on the body, or lumps in it break up the silhouette, it’s no longer fashionable or attractive, which kills its marketability. An actual women’s clothing designer reports here that women complain about similar issues when pockets are added: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-womens-clothes-seem-to-lack-pockets-Is-this-really-an-effort-to-make-women-buy-handbags

    To reintroduce pockets, women’s fashion needs to do three things: 1) embrace less tight-fitting clothes, 2) re-introduce pockets through consumer demand, and 3) produce less clothing lines less frequently. It seems like the third thing is actually what’s holding back pocket introduction more than 1 and 2.

  14. Erin

    Love the series, and especially the all-important issue of POCKETS! I’m sure a study can or has been done of pockets across literature (see Wendy’s offer to make pockets for the Lost Boys in Neverland…), but this passage in particular came to mind:

    Often, people want to say that things are ‘for men’ or ‘for women,’ but I think that many of these items just share the property that they can or can’t fit into the shitty pockets women get. Of course, if girls were less focused on their appearance, maybe they would wear carpenter’s pants and carry whatever they wanted. Who is to say? It is inarguable, though, whomever’s fault it is, that having small pockets is terrible.
    ~Jesse Ball, “How to Set a Fire and Why”

    [Also, second the error on “reticule,” which comes from the Latin and refers to a “netlike” shape/structure. Perhaps this misinterpretation with “ridicule” was a false-cognate of its time…?]

  15. Dave Warda

    Loved this episode on pockets on my drive into work this morning. As a man, I have always loved pockets. All my favourite pants or jackets always have unique or comfortable pockets. This episode made me think differently about how pockets have shaped my thoughts about clothing and my identity. It also triggered a memory of when as a teenager in the 1980s, it was my choice to buy a pair of winter boots with a pocket just above the ankle. So unique, so foolish, yet I loved them. (I think they were Kangaroo boots…)

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