Twin Cities clothing designer Cori Taylor Frigaard has noticed a pattern.
When she peddles her minimalist, stretchy jumpsuits and dresses at local art festivals and pop-up shops, certain pieces always sell out first: the ones with pockets.
Frigaard, who said she’s not “a big purse person,” understands.
“I love clothes. I love them. But for me, a big deciding factor if I’m going to get something is if it has pockets,” she said, plunging her hand into a vest with pockets she could “fit a puppy in.”
That’s why she started designing athleticwear, CoriTaylorMN, with pockets.
“I carry around, like, 11 tubes of ChapStick with me all the time,” she said. “I’ve got to have somewhere to put them.”
Her designs are going against hundreds of years of pocket paucity for women.
Even in 2018, women’s pants, jackets, skirts and dresses have tiny, useless pockets, no pockets at all — or, worst of all — fake pockets. Clearly, it isn’t the most pressing issue of the day. But it is an irritation.
“I think that’s a really problematic situation that affects millions of women every day when we go to work, ” said Julie Sygiel, a clothing designer.
The lack of adequate pockets in clothing for women and girls has become a rallying cry, as social media posts declaring #womendeserve pockets and calling for #pockets forgirls have gone viral.
Armed with rulers, women are documenting “pocket inequality,” comparing the pockets in men’s and women’s mass-market clothes and finding big disparities in size and prevalence. Some, such as Frigaard, are designing their own pocket-forward clothes, while others are launching pocket-heavy lines of clothing for girls or crowdsourcing to create the perfect dress — with pockets, of course.
“Men’s pants have very deep pockets, and you can just fit so many things in there,” Frigaard said.
Pockets cost a bit more to include, and take a bit more time to sew. And not every design can incorporate them. But that doesn’t fully explain pocket inequality. History, and a little gender studies, help.
In the 17th century, men’s pockets were sewn into the linings of their “coats, waistcoats and breeches,” while women’s pockets were separate and worn under their petticoats, often tied around their waist, explain curators from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Women could reach their pocket by slipping their hands through an opening in their petticoats’ side seam. When hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style in the 1790s, the line of fashionable empire dresses didn’t include room for a pocket. Bags carried over the arm, called reticules, became popular instead.
Ever since, handbags and purses have largely stood in for pockets for women.
Practical vs. decorative
That doesn’t mean women have been happy about it, though. For more than a century, women have asked why their clothing doesn’t have pockets. For just as long, the answer has been that men’s clothing has pockets because it’s practical, while women’s clothing is decorative.
In 1910, the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune said: “Pockets stuffed with miscellaneous articles would produce ridges and irregularities that would be unsightly; if not to the unobservant male, at any rate to the feminine sartorial critic. Hence the feminine portion of the community is driven to the use of the handbag.” (If men carried handbags, the article went on to say, they’d be sure to misplace them.)
This summer, fantasy and science fiction author Delilah Dawson made thousands laugh and shake their heads (and hit “like” more than 25,000 times) when she tweeted a made-up exchange between a generic fashion executive and women:
Exec: So what do we think women want in fashion?
Women: Pocke —
Exec: Cold shoulder tops in pastels. Got it.
Women: Pock —
Exec: Clothes with pre-made holes in delicate fabrics.
Women: Po —
Exec: Cutouts in flabby areas. Good.
Women: POCKET —
Exec: Shapes that require new bras!
The fashion industry’s failure to listen is what led Sygiel to start the Pockets Project to create work-friendly dress designs with adequate pockets.
“Women have dollars,” she said. “We want to spend them on products that work for us.”
Sygiel, who founded underwear startup Dear Kate, first noticed the paltry size of women’s pockets in 2014, when Apple released a new, larger iPhone that kept falling out of the shallow pockets in her clothes. But “once you see the pocket inequality, all of a sudden you see it everywhere,” she said.
Determined to document the difference, she went to a women’s clothing store with a ruler, pulled out 20 pieces of clothing, and found that pockets in the men’s clothes were, on average, 3 inches deeper than those in women’s clothes.
(Another pocket project by the visual data journalism site the Pudding examined the pocket sizes in 40 pairs of men’s and women’s jeans from popular brands, and found that on average, women’s jeans have pockets that are 48 percent shorter and 6.5 percent narrower than men’s pockets.)
Sygiel posted a 12-question survey online, and used responses from more than 2,000 people to create five prototype dresses (all with pockets). She plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to make the dresses available.
“I think it comes back to women in the workforce and all of the things that we’re doing,” Sygiel said. “We’re running meetings, we’re hosting events, we’re doing a lot of things, and we need pockets.”
She isn’t the first to try to transform women’s clothing. A century ago, U.S. suffragists developed designs for pocketed suits, bloomers and divided skirts, which allowed women more freedom of movement — and places to carry money, keys and other necessities.
“Indeed, the whole costume has seven or eight pockets, all in sight and all easy to find, even by the wearer,” the New York Times wrote about the “suffragette suit” in 1910.
A cause for cartwheels
Rebecca Melsky wasn’t thinking about pockets when she launched the girls’ wear startup Princess Awesome in 2015. She was thinking about equality.
The Washington, D.C., area teacher had hunted for dresses for her daughter in fabrics with robots, dinosaurs or planes on them, but couldn’t find any. So she and a friend decided to make their own. The first Princess Awesome dresses had no pockets. That changed quickly.
Feedback from customers convinced Melsky that pockets weren’t “just some extra thing. It fosters independence. It lets kids navigate the world without carrying a bag or without asking for parental help all the time. It’s important.”
Now the company puts pockets in almost everything it makes, including leggings. Pockets allow girls to pick up “treasures” they find on a walk or stash a toy so they can use two hands on the playground equipment, she said.
At a photo shoot for the company, one of the girls modeling the latest leggings showed up wearing sunglasses. What she did next made Melsky smile.
“She decided to start doing some cartwheels,” said Melsky. “She put her sunglasses in the pocket of her leggings to go do her cartwheels, and they stayed.”