Imli Diaries

Tamarind Chutney

Pocket mein Rocket? Not if you’re wearing womenswear: a brief history of (the lack) of pockets in women’s clothing

Ever had that moment of excitement when you find a new piece for your wardrobe only to discover that…dun dun dun…there are no pockets? Or worse, the pockets are fake? It's a fashion betrayal, right? You had plans to conquer the day hands-free, but now you're stuck juggling your phone, keys, and wallet like a circus actor. Well, if you’ve ever wondered why women’s clothes lack pockets, this post is for you!

Love Pockets? Thank Thieves

Once upon a time, the world was pocketless. In Medieval Europe, everyone—men included—carried bags tied around their waists or attached to their belts, kind of like fanny packs. As societies became more urbanized, however, and “cutpurses” devised cunning ways to pickpocket (or rather, pick-purse!), people started concealing their valuables under their jackets and petticoats. Over time, both men and women's attire incorporated small slits for accessing these hidden bags or attached pockets. And that’s how it all started. 

Pockets and Revolution:

In the late 17th century, pockets became a staple in men's clothing and were seamlessly integrated into coats and trousers. However, women were left behind in this sartorial evolution and continued to rely on tied-on pockets. These cumbersome pockets, hidden between layers of petticoats and skirts, were often difficult for women to access, especially at short notice. In an 1893 edition of Harper’s Bazaar, a contributor recounts her exasperation while attempting to find her pocket. When she is hurried up by an impatient horsecar conductor and waiting passengers, she quips, “How can I possibly hurry up when my pocket is in South Boston?”

Despite their impracticality, however, these pockets accommodated a myriad of essentials, from money, to private letters, to sewing kits. In short, pockets meant freedom. 

Tied-on pockets from the 1770s (Source:

Things took a turn for the worse for women in the mid-18th century. With the advent of the French Revolution, the landscape of fashion underwent a seismic shift. The opulent extravagance of the ancien régime gave way to a more restrained aesthetic, characterized by slim silhouettes and close-fitted skirts. This shift left no room for bulky pockets. Instead, women carried small bags called reticules that could scarcely fit a hanky and a coin. Since women barely had access to money and property, it was thought they wouldn’t need a pocket. 

One step forward, two steps back?

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pockets became intertwined with the women's suffrage movement, taking on a political significance beyond their utilitarian function. Beginning in 1891, the Rational Dress campaign advocated for women's attire to prioritize health and mobility, spurring the abandonment of corsets in favor of flexible garments like bloomers. Integral to this movement was the call for functional clothing with ample pockets. The momentum towards functional clothing gained further traction in the early 20th century, as exemplified by the “suffragette suit,” designed in 1910, which boasted six pockets! The suffragette suit is emblematic of the evolving significance of pockets for women. Pockets were no longer just practical accessories; they were symbolic of women’s quest for equality. In fact, the new freedom capacious pockets afforded women helped to challenge norms around how women were expected to behave. In 1894, The Graphic newspaper commented that, 

“The pockets of the ‘New Woman,’ admirably useful as they are, seem likely to prove her new fetish, to stand her instead of blushes and shyness and embarrassment, for who can be any of these things while she stands with her hands in her pockets?”

Women wearing dresses with pockets, 1926 (Source:


As more women entered the workforce during the world wars, practicality became essential, leading to the widespread adoption of functional pockets in women's clothing. However, in the post-war era, societal norms shifted yet again, relegating pockets predominantly to men's attire and signaling a temporary setback in women’s quest for sartorial equality. 

Saree-ously Pocketless:

Strolling through the street or market, have you ever seen an Indian aunty deftly slipping cash into the blouse of her saree? Ever wondered why? It’s because sarees have no pockets! And it's not just sarees; most traditional Indian women’s clothing, including stitched garments like kurtas and salwars—which were introduced by the Mughals in the 13th century—lack pockets.  

While the exact reasons for this sartorial choice remain elusive, it's speculated that the absence of pockets in traditional Indian women's clothing could stem from a combination of factors. Firstly, there's the concern that pockets might compromise the fit and silhouette of these garments, echoing the apprehensions raised about women’s clothing in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Additionally, a colonial hangover could also be at play, as historical, pocket-less European fashion norms may have influenced sartorial practices in colonial India.

Why Does Womenswear Still Not Have Pockets?

But you might be scratching your head and asking: why in the world, in this day and age, are women's clothes still pocket-deficient?

Well, at least partially, it’s about money. 

The handbag industry plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the scarcity of functional pockets in women's clothing. By capitalizing on the absence of adequate pockets, the handbag sector maintains a lucrative market for its products. Consequently, there exists a vested interest in ensuring that women's attire continues to lack spacious pockets. Meanwhile, the rise of fast fashion has exacerbated the problem, with pockets often being the first casualty in cost-cutting endeavors.

The perpetual absence of functional pockets in women's clothing also persists due to the antiquated notion that women’s clothes should be designed for beauty and men’s for utility. In fact, in 1954, French fashion designer Christian Dior famously commented that, “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” It’s this medieval attitude to women’s clothing that has carried over into fashion today. Obviously, it’s B.S. 

But lucky for you, we at TC believe in #pocketequality

Check out our store for a pocket revolution like no other!

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