The Patriarchy of Pockets: A History of Pocket Inequality in Women’s Clothing

Design expert Hannah Carlson sheds light on the lack of pockets in women’s clothing and its cultural significance.

For centuries, women have been fighting for pocket equity, a battle that design expert Hannah Carlson explores in her book, “Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close.” In a world where men’s clothing is expected to have pockets, women have been left without this essential feature. Carlson delves into the history of pockets and the societal expectations that have perpetuated pocket inequality in women’s clothing.

Pocket Inequity: A Historical Perspective

The evolution of pockets in menswear versus womenswear

According to Carlson, the disparity in pockets between men’s and women’s clothing can be traced back to the industrialization of the fashion industry. While suits, a staple of men’s fashion, were mass-produced with functional pockets, women’s clothing remained handmade until the early 20th century. Women resorted to carrying tie-on pockets under their skirts, but as modern dress evolved, the expectation shifted towards carrying handbags.

The Burden of Carrying Belongings Externally

The practical needs overlooked by male-dominated fashion design

Hayley Gibson, founder of clothing line Birds of North America, highlights the burden placed on women to carry their belongings externally. She suggests that the predominance of males in fashion design may have contributed to the oversight of women’s practical needs. Gibson believes that the traditional acceptance of women carrying handbags instead of having proper pockets is not practical and limits their freedom.

The Symbolism of Pockets

The psychological and expressive significance of pockets

Carlson argues that the way we interact with pockets reveals a lot about ourselves. The act of putting our hands inside our clothing is a meaningful and expressive gesture. From oratory to public speaking, this gesture has been associated with mystery and charisma. Images of people with hands in their pockets convey a sense of allure and intrigue. Pockets have become a symbol of personal expression and can send different messages depending on the social setting.

Pockets and the Suffragette Movement

The role of pockets in the fight for women’s rights

Pockets were not just a practical necessity; they also played a significant role in the suffragette movement. Women in the late 19th century began demanding both the right to vote and the right to pockets. The lack of pockets was seen as a symbol of inequality, with The New York Times even highlighting the issue in 1899. Pockets became a powerful symbol of women’s liberation, with the suffragettes calling it their “greatest lack.”


The absence of pockets in women’s clothing is not merely an inconvenience; it reflects deeper societal expectations and gender inequality. Design expert Hannah Carlson’s exploration of pocket history sheds light on the cultural significance of this seemingly mundane feature. The fight for pocket equity continues, as women strive for clothing that is not only fashionable but also practical and empowering. Pockets are more than just a place to store belongings; they represent freedom, comfort, and equality.

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