The Tyranny of Pocketless Women’s Fashion
We deserve functional pockets, and so do our daughters.
“Mama, will you carry some rocks for me?” My 4-year-old crouches to search for shiny pebbles in our neighbor’s dusty gravel driveway.
“You can carry them yourself, Sweetie.”
“My hands are too full.” Already, she holds three small pink plums and a puffy white dandelion she’s saving so her dad can make a wish.
“Fine. I’ll carry one rock, so pick your very favorite.” She hands me an impossibly smooth white pebble, and I slip it into one of the many pockets of my overalls.
“Mama, how come my clothes never have pockets?”
I recently found Melissa Kaseman’s photo project Preschool Pocket Treasures, which archived the contents of her son’s pockets after preschool each day. His pockets contained deflated balloons, sticks, flowers, gems, beans, feathers, sequins, Legos, hairties, crayons — even a monster finger puppet.
The photos are adorable, and they made me realize just what my preschool-aged daughter is missing.
“Mama, how come my clothes never have pockets?”
My daughter picks out her own clothes. Every day, she wears a dress and a pair of leggings. Of her many dresses, only one has pockets. None of her leggings do.
Either you’re nodding your head along with me, or you’re wondering, “Why don’t you just get your kid some clothes with pockets?”
Well, sure, one feminist strategy might be to dress her in pocketful clothes (clothes from the quote unquote boy aisle). But I try to empower her by letting her choose her own clothes. Every day, she chooses from an assortment of hand-me-downs and items she picked out at thrift stores— I make sure we check out both the kids’ clothing aisles, but she’s got her heart set on hearts and sequins, and those rarely come with pockets.
So every day, she ends up pocketless again.
I wear overalls to inspire her — she’s got a pair of her own hanging unworn in her closet —“But overalls don’t twirl,” she reminds me.
So I was stoked when my daughter realized on her own it was strange she didn’t have pockets. I was excited to tell her that, yes, clothes marketed to boys and men have more pockets than clothes marketed to girls and women.
“But the good news is, anyone can wear anything!”
“But I want to wear pretty dresses, because that’s what ballerinas do. So how come my dresses don’t have pockets?”
I know well the tyranny of pocketless women’s fashion. I know the frustration of pants with sewn-on lines to give the appearance of pockets where there are none; of dress after pocketless dress; of carrying a bag everywhere I go, just to have a place to put my keys.
When my daughter finished potty training, my husband — with his pants full of deep, useful pockets — celebrated: “We never have to carry a diaper bag again!”
But I almost never leave the house without a bag. Today, some of the items in my bag are for me, some for my kid, some for my husband.
We want to quit being weighed down by men’s expectations, not to mention men’s literal stuff.
Those of you with useful pockets, can you imagine going to a party in a pocketless dress, with a teeny tiny strapless clutch that society told you should always match your heels?
What even fits in a little bag like that? I guess all we need is makeup, right? (Barf.) Every piece of that image of beauty, of fanciness, of respectability, is intended to disempower women, to replace function with fashion, to physically handicap us to satisfy the male gaze.
Some women even spend hundreds of thousands — even millions — of dollars on purses, in some attempt to feel empowered in the face of this gendered pocket double standard.
Because even when women’s fashion is supposed to convey the image of power, it suffers from a lack of useful pockets.
When Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, she wore an all-white, pocketless suit, one of many of her trademark pocketless pantsuits. In a Vox piece detailing the history of (the lack of) pockets in women’s clothing, Chelsea G. Summers writes of Clinton’s pantsuits:
“They are the answer to what women can wear to convey relatable power. Seamless and sealed, these suits present Clinton’s body like a saint’s. Nothing goes into the suits, nothing comes out. There is nothing to hide in Clinton’s pantsuit, for there is no place to hide it.”
Women are tired of pretending to be saints. Or, alternately, sexual objects. Ladies in the streets and freaks in the sheets. Maybe we just want to let ourselves appear as the complex, ever-changing humans we are. Maybe we just want a decent pocket to hold our phone.
Maybe we want to quit being weighed down by men’s expectations, not to mention men’s literal stuff.
GQ told us in 2017 The Man Purse Has Arrived, but I’m still carrying my husband’s wallet in my purse every time we go on a date. He’s got pockets, but hey, since I’m already carrying a bag…
None of this is new. Pockets — and women’s lack of — have empowered the patriarchy for a long time. An 1899 New York Times piece said it this way:
“As soon as a boy gets on trousers with pockets he begins to swagger and assert his superiority, and feel that he is in business, sure enough. Watch a boy stick his hands in his trousers’ pockets and spread his legs apart and argue a point of family difference, and you’ll see his older and younger sisters, and very likely his mother, cower before him. I tell you it’s all a matter of pockets.”
I promised my daughter we’ll keep scouring the thrift stores for dresses with pockets. No one should have to choose between twirling and rock-collecting.