Women have been shouting about it for years: why do men get pockets and women don’t? To be sure, women do get some pockets on their trousers, but they’re smaller, tighter and shallower than men’s pockets.
The proof is in The Pudding, a digital publication that in 2018 put 40 pairs of women’s jeans head-to-head – or pocket-to-pocket – with 40 pairs of men’s jeans from different brands and in different price ranges. They found that the pockets in women’s jeans are “48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets”.
To get a sense of what that size difference means practically, they tried fitting a series of objects in the pockets, including 3 models of mobile phone, a front wallet, a pen – and the wearer’s own hand. Only 10% (4 total pairs) of the women’s jeans tested offered pockets big enough for a woman to fit her hand into, and those only in the low (less than $50) and lower-middle ($50-$99) price ranges. With jeans from the upper two ranges ($100-$149 and $150+), however, the woman’s hand is out of luck – it fit in none. In fact, jean pockets in the highest ($150+) range were almost totally useless for just about everything: only 1 in 40 could hold a front wallet, only 4 in 40 a pen, and only 1 in 40 could hold 1 of the 3 models of smartphones – the iPhone X.
With this inverse relationship between price and pocket size, It’s tempting to wonder to what extent pockets are tied to our notions of class. Who would need to stuff a bunch of tools and bits and pieces in their pockets? The working class, that’s who. Not needing pockets is an implicit sign of wealth, perhaps suggesting that you have other people to carry things for you. Which may be why only the lower-tier women’s jeans in The Pudding’s study actually had pockets. If you can pay a lot for your jeans, these jeans makers seem to be saying, you are certainly not the kind of person who needs to have pockets to put things in. But of course, this was only true for the women’s jeans. 100% of the men’s jeans tested, in all price ranges, had pockets big enough to fit the wearer’s hands.
Now, it is true that men have their share of semi-useless pockets, too. There are real suit jacket pockets that are sewn-up before shipping so that people trying on the suit don’t deform its line by stuffing their hands in; these pockets are often never unsewn for the same anti-aesthetic reasons. There are also little fake pockets, while appearing pocket-y, can’t actually be used (and if unsewn will leave only a hole). And then, of course, there’s that weird little coin pocket in trousers, which according to Levi’s, was originally made for cowboys to stuff their watches in – a watch pocket. But most of these sewn-up, fake, or awkward pockets are more than compensated for in men’s clothes by pockets that actually, generously, work; the fact that women seldom get such compensation is just one more proof that this is a man’s world – by design.
So with pocket-less women of the world uniting around this shared cause, where can we go from here? Apple and Android device makers could certainly reverse the trend of oversized phones that not only don’t fit in women’s pockets, they’re awkward for women to hold in one hand. And paperbacks, pens, and even notebooks, could be made smaller, pocket sized for the pockets that women have to deal with now.
But the most comprehensive answer is probably for fashion labels to start giving more women what they want. Not man-sized pockets, but pockets made for actual women, made to fit their hands, their cards, their keys, their phones, and all their tools to get stuff done.