Single pocket, from the collection of the LA County Museum of Art. White fabric with red embroidery in a floral pattern.

Single pocket, from the collection of the LA County Museum of Art.

Women’s pockets used to be so large that women could carry around: “everyday implements, such as a pincushion, thimble, pencil case, knife and scissors,” according to the Victoria and Albert Museum.   They note that women might also carry keys, spectacles, a watch and pocket books or dairies.  These voluminous carry-alls were affixed to the body by being tied around the waist, generally with one pocket on each side.  Plus coins and a handkerchief.  This was in the 17th century.  (How far we have fallen, we wearers of women’s clothing!)

Pair of pockets (ca 1725 - 1750), linen with embroidery, to be worn under a dress, on display in the Swaledale Museum in Reeth, England

Pair of pockets (ca 1725 – 1750), linen with embroidery, to be worn under a dress, on display in the Swaledale Museum in Reeth, England.

How did a woman access these giant pockets?  Remember that women’s clothing used to consist of many, many layers, starting with a shift as the base layer, then one or more petticoats, and then the skirt.  The pockets went on over the petticoats, and under the skirt.  The skirt had slit openings in the sides for accessing the contents of the pockets.

A modern day woman in a white dress with a high waist wears white gloves and carries a pink reticule. The dress has a pink ribbon around the ribcage.

Example of a high waisted, narrow style of dress making tie on pockets impossible. The model carries a reticule (tiny bag).

Once the silhouette of dresses changed from voluminous to narrow, with a high waist, as in this (modern) image, there was no room for a pocket, and the reticule, or ridiculously tiny bag, came into fashion.

This was the beginning of the end, for excellent pockets for women.  The era of the purse began.

According to the website,

“The word “pocketbook” derives from a dimity pocket—a small book that featured a calendar, recipes, songs, or fashion engravings.”

I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but it’s a delightful explanation for something that otherwise makes no sense!  For any younger readers, “pocketbook” is an old fashion term for a purse, generally a small purse.

Learn More about the History of Women’s Pockets

Want to know more?  I’m delighted to discover that a new book is out,

"The Pocket" book cover image. The cover of the book has an image of an 18th century woman's tie-on pocket.

The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives, 1660–1900 

by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux
and the Podcast Dressed: the History of Fashion, interviewed co-author Ariane Fennetaux in a two-part episode on the history of pockets!!!!  Find episode 1 here.  Or on your favorite podcast app.  (It’s a great show, worth subscribing, even if you think you’re not interested in the history of fashion, you might discover that you are!)

If you’re a long-time blog reader, you may know that this is not my first post on the subject of pockets, oh no, definitely not. There’s a whole category on the blog about pockets. I have for years paid a sewist to add a cell phone pocket to all my jeans. Sadly, all those jeans began to wear out, and it’s a pandemic, which makes it difficult to get your pants hemmed or pockets added.

So I’m thrilled to find more and more pants these days with pockets already built in. My current favorite pair is from Duluth Trading Company and they have NINE pockets! Including a cell phone pocket. The pockets are so huge, that I’ve noticed I can have my keys in a front pocket and not even notice! It’s a delight. I love them so much!

And, we made stickers!

We (we being my artist friends and I) made Pockets for Women! and Pockets for Girls! vinyl decals!

Pockets for Women! Vinyl Decal Copyright Elaine Luther 2020. Die cut sticker in the shape and color of a jeans pocket says, "Pockets for Women!" and another one says, "Pockets for Girls!"

These stickers are available in our new e-commerce shop, Totally Legit Card Co., where we also have greeting cards and many fun stickers!