If you took a moment to empty your pockets or bag what would you find? A phone? Keys? Money? What a person carries around can tell a lot about what they feel is important in everyday life. This has always been the case. People have “necessary” things to get by in their lives and work to make life easier.
One thing that made life easier was the pocket. Originally worn by both men and women as a tie-on pocket, it was up to the wearer as to how big it was or the shape. They could also wear one or two (or sometimes more) if they chose. Pockets were sewn into men’s clothing long before women’s clothes. Men’s clothing, by the end of the 17th century, had for a long time already a tradition of sewn pockets versus the tied-on that women’s clothing still used.
What each person carried in their pockets varied from person to person, as well as how the pockets were made as these were personal items. However, there was a market that sprung up for items, for both men and women, to carry around with them in their pockets. These could always include the ever-present handkerchiefs but even went so far as to include small books and other polite conversation helpers.
With pockets, the number of things you could carry was only really limited by the size of the pocket. This was especially true when the ladies’ dresses got larger during the mid-18th century. The petticoats that were fashionable at the time either had their own pocket detailing or were tied toward the front which allowed for pockets to be accessed more easily.
Handbags didn’t immediately replace the pocket. Fashion just changed over time as women’s clothing slimmed down and no longer allowed for the tie-on pocket under their clothing and was replaced underneath. However, the number and size of pockets in women’s clothing has become an increasing problem over the years, and pockets continue to grow smaller or non-existent.
- The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux – page 23, 144
- Women’s Pockets Weren’t Always a Complete Disgrace | A Brief History: England, 15th c – 21st c – Bernadette Banner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaRoWPEUTI4
- Image of Pocket – Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ecru_Cotton_Pocket.jpg