Pocket Politics

Is pocket equality the next frontier for the fashion industry?

I need a phone upgrade—the battery of my iPhone 5s doesn’t hold charge anymore. But part of me is dreading getting the 6s. Cost aside, I’m worried I won’t be able to fit the damn thing in the pocket of my jeans. My phone now hardly fits in the pocket of my favorite Topshop jeans, so I doubt the larger 6 will fit at all.

Not being able to fit my phone in my pants pocket may seem trivial, but it speaks to a larger issue: the worthlessness of pockets in women’s clothing. Most pockets in women’s clothing serve no function because they’re too small to fit anything bigger than a wad of cash. I see male friends and relatives comfortably store their possessions in their pants pockets: wallet, phone, keys, etc. But if I try to put just my phone in my pocket, half of it sticks out. Which sometimes is fine, but god forbid I bend over slightly; if I didn’t have a sturdy phone case my screen definitely would have shattered at this point (knock on wood). And don’t get me started on the occasions where my phone has nearly fallen into the toilet. Sure, I could always put my phone in my back pocket, but that seems like an invitation for someone to easily swipe my phone.

The pocket problem extends past pants—jackets, skirts, dresses, and more either have no pockets, god awful fake pockets, or pockets that you can’t even fit your entire hand in. Either you or a friend has probably experienced the joy of wearing a dress and discovering that it has pockets. Because believe or not, most people enjoy functional clothing!

One possible reason that women’s pockets are designed smaller than men’s is the idea that larger pockets are unflattering and bring unwanted attention to the hip area. I’m not a clothing designer, but I doubt that an extra two inches would drastically alter the look of a garment. Plus, I find that an iPhone half sticking out of my pocket isn’t particularly flattering either.

Most workout clothes have functional pockets, and are still usually flattering. But the crossover from activewear to everyday fashion is only recently begun. The popularity of activewear for occasions outside of the gym show that women (and men for that matter) strive for comfort and functionality in their clothing. The majority of activewear is sleek while still managing to hold phones and keys. For convenience’s sake, let’s hope that designers will translate the practicality of activewear to workwear, formal wear, etc.

Just because men’s clothing usually has larger pockets doesn’t mean men aren’t at a sartorial disadvantage. It’s socially frowned upon for men to carry handbags, just consider the mocking, and obnoxious “murse,” or man purse. Because if a man decides that he wants to carry a handbag, the bag either has to be an “acceptable” briefcase, or he’s at risk at sacrificing his manhood—whatever that means.

Larger pockets negate men having to carrying around a “feminine” accessory like a purse. But pockets (even roomier ones) can only hold so much. For example, whenever I’m with my dad, I can guarantee that he’ll ask me to hold his sunglasses case in my purse. But women are assumed and expected to carry a handbag with them wherever they go. Thus seemingly less of need for larger pockets. But what about when you don’t want to have to tote around a bag all the time?

In most areas, if there is a demand for something, the market will provide it. However, the fashion industry doesn’t always prescribe to this. For starters, there’s a viable market for plus sized clothing, but it’s still treated like a niche market. Many women I know have expressed a want or need for more functional pockets, but the majority of women’s retailers continue to churn out clothing with laughable excuses for pockets.

Like many things gender-related, we may not think twice about why certains difference exist. There obviously isn’t a biological reason that men need larger pockets than women—that’s ridiculous. As technology changes, and as women demand more practical clothing, clothing retailers from high end designers to fast fashion companies will have to adapt to the times. And designing larger, functional pockets is definitely a good place to start.

Illustration by Taylor Roberts