Pants Pocket Equality

Katherine Merkel, News and opinion editor

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At first glance, the pocket may appear to be trivial, but considering its deep and rich history, the first step to understanding the modern politics behind the popular little pouches is to take a step into the past. Ancient peoples typically used cloth or leather pouches to hold their valuables and often attached these to their belts in a sort of external pocket. In fact, even Ötzi the Iceman- the oldest natural mummy of a Copper Age European man- carried a belt with a pocket sewn to it that contained tools and other useful items he would have needed to have on his journey around 3300 BC. Skipping forward to Europe in the 13th century, the precursor to the modern pocket known as the fitchet began to appear. Vertical slits were cut into the sides of a tunic to allow for a purse or keys to be easily concealed underneath the clothing to discourage pickpockets. The 17th century brought along what most closely resembles modern pockets with the pouches beginning to be sewn into the inside of men’s clothing, but not women’s. Women had to carry on either tying their pockets on or hiding them under their skirts. With the advent of the French Revolution came a switch to a style of dress that valued the slim silhouette and a naturally higher waistline. The French Revolution was also a time that challenged preconceived notions of property and privacy. Taking away the large pockets that symbolized freedom for women during the time successfully limited the woman’s ability to traverse a public space as freely as she might otherwise have done with pockets.  This takes into account the fact that women were no longer able to carry personal items or “rebellious” reading materials. Later, pockets would be championed by the Radical Dress Movement of the late 18th century, where first-wave feminists swapped their corsets and empire line silhouettes for bloomers with functional pockets.

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