I Demand Pocket Equality

I Demand Pocket Equality

Ever get the feeling that the general lack of pockets on your lady clothing is a conspiracy designed specifically to keep you from advancing by rendering you less effective? You were right. The jig is up. No pockets = sexism. But this may all finally be changing thanks to an unexpected factor: The size of the new iPhone.

The iPhone 6 Plus, at 5.5-plus inches, is “unpocketable” for many, but especially for women, who’ve complained about the size being too big for both pants and hands. It’s also definitely too big for wearing on arms during exercise. Glamour reports that some brands are looking at changing their clothing to accommodate it, even if no one has a firm pocket plan quite yet. Writes Leah Melby:

Mashable connected with some of today’s retailers to ask whether they were working on a pocket solution. “We try to consider every aspect of the way our customers live their lives, and changing mobile technology is no exception,” J.Crew‘s Tom Mora said. “We think about all these details, whether it’s new tech accessories or special interior pockets to carry the various generations.”
A representative from American Eagle said that the current pocket of men’s jeans already fit both sizes of the larger iPhones and “women’s is still being evaluated.”

Hesitation noted, American Eagle. I have beef, though, that has nothing to do with the size of the new iPhone: This is far from the first reason we’ve had to consider adding real pockets to women’s clothing. This is a longstanding problem all women have endured for our entire lives. Women going pocketless is an under-addressed, silent epidemic that has infantilized us all and given us a big giant baby’s purse to deal with in its stead.

Humor me: I want you to remember the last time you bought a piece of clothing with pockets. Real ones. Usable ones, ones that actually fit things, like the standard night out’s keys + phone + ID + lip gloss/compact. It is a rare thing, no? Maybe an A-line dress or skirt, something vintage with a full-bodied lower half. And the moment you discovered that not only was the fabric perfect, the fit amazing, but here were ACTUAL FUNCTIONING pockets, let me ask you: Was it not the greatest moment of your life? Did it not add a skip to your step? Were you not astonished each time you reached down and slid your hands into the outrageously useful fabric compartment? When women complimented you on the outfit, did you not reveal to them with exclamatory glee that it also possessed something unexpected and lovely? And was that thing not pockets?

And then: Did you not also try to tell a man about these pockets, and did he not mutter something indifferent or ignorant, such as, “Oh cool,” or, “Sounds great,” because he has had nothing if not pockets on everything he has ever worn his entire life and could not even comprehend your joy? And did you not shake with rage at the thought of it? I know I’m not alone; I just spent 10 minutes on chat with friends lamenting the lack of pockets, and all of us agree it’s a lifelong battle.

The occasional H&M dress or Anthropologie skirt might have them. A jersey dress at Target. And make no mistake: It is sexist to assume all women will carry a pocketbook, or that for all women in nearly all situations, that aesthetic matters more than functionality. Don’t get me wrong: I love purses. I love them. I also happen to not want to carry one most of the time.

Over at the Atlantic, in a piece called “The Gender Politics of Pockets,” author Tanya Basu has my back:

This isn’t a new problem for women. Our skinny jeans have pockets, but there is no way an object bigger than a standard issue ID card fits in the front, and everyone knows that slipping a phone in your back pocket is an invitation for a treacherous dive into a toilet, or a backflip resulting in heartbreaking shatters. Purses have enclosures that were once suitable for the flip phone generation but have since become too snug for newer models. Throwing it into the main compartment seems risky, at best.
But the biggest problem might be the lack of pockets in the first place: women’s slacks, dresses, and blazers often have no pockets, or worse, “fake” pockets that serve no utilitarian purpose besides sartorially leading the wearer on to believe they have a handy wardrobe aide, until it’s too late.

She asks, point blank: how could any industry purporting to cater to women actually serve them so poorly? The fashion industry, at least in the mid-range, is male-dominated. Their concerns are design and drape, not form and function. Basu spoke with Camilla Olson, creative director at a fashion firm:

“I honestly believe the fashion industry is not helping women advance,” Olson said. And the lack of functional designs for women is one example. “We [women] know clearly we need pockets to carry technology and I think it’s expected we are going to carry a purse. When we’re working we don’t carry purses around. A pocket is a reasonable thing.”

Basu also speaks with Sara Kozlowski at the Council of Fashion Designers of America, who blames fast-fashion for copying higher end designs but omitting the functionality. That would be reassuringly simple as answers go, if pockets ever were a priority, and in my lifetime, that has never been the case. (They are, interestingly, more prevalent in clothes for my preschool-age daughter, which is great for her to collect rocks, bugs, and leaves in).

Back to Basu:

Olson says that some designers have deemed pockets “too ugly” for clothing, while others simply don’t think women need them. And these decisions, she says, have created a chasm in women’s fashion, and hold women back.
A man can simply swipe up his keys and iPhone on the way to a rendezvous with co-workers and slip them into his pocket. A woman on the way to that same meeting has to either carry those items in her hand, or bring a whole purse with her—a definitive, silent sign that she is a woman.

Take a minute and consider this. It is a real amount of extra energy and work to manage your stuff when it must be carted around in this way. Everything takes longer: You remember your purse in the first place. You get stuff out of your purse, you put it back in. You find a place to put your purse. You pick out a purse. You buy purses. Pockets—real, usable pockets—would change our lives.

And while it’s great that the iPhone 6 is forging this potential shift, Basu says not to expect any swift change (or at least not before Fall 2015 given the typical design-to-street timetable).

And even then, there is the issue of the aesthetics of adding pockets, or rather, balancing them with functionality. Pockets are not always “the ideal solution”:

Women’s pockets are often located near the hip area, where many women would prefer not to attract attention. For that problem, Olson thinks a holster-type of product would work best—a compromise between having a purse and placing an unsightly bulge around what is culturally perceived in the West as a “problem area.”

But this is not a pocket, it’s an accessory, and I don’t want to carry a purse for the same reason I don’t want to wear a holster or a fanny pack. Do not mention the cross-body purse to me—it’s a terrific boob separator, but it’s still a purse! Kozlowski tells Basu that active brands have come up with clever ways to incorporate storage into women’s clothing that manages to remain elegant — always with the elegance — and perhaps they can offer insight. I submit that in this area, we can have both form and function more often. But the real reason is that pockets are just not considered super feminine.

Camilla Olson tells Basu:

“Things are just more aesthetically driven to silhouette and embellishment and approach to design in general,” she said. “I have to remind my students [if they’re designing a] $5000 coat that they might want a pocket.”

But as long as we go without pockets, we are stuck holding the literal bag.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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