the Pocket Fits, Stuff It
On a somewhat bleary morning a few months ago, I was dressing
my daughter in yet another one of the outfits she only managed
to wear once. As I fished around for the pacifier and the
nail clippers that I didn’t have pockets of my own in which
to store, I realized with a bit of peevishness that she
had a pocket. Yes, an honest-to-god pocket.
A surprisingly large percentage of infant clothes—I’m talking
0-3 month sizes here, not even potential precocious walkers—come
with fully functional pockets. I know a mother who says her
son managed to spit up into these pockets on a regular
basis. Even when they were on the sleeve of his clothing.
Hey, what’s a pocket for if not to put something in it?
Meanwhile, a roughly equivalent percentage of women’s pants
come with fake pockets. It’s bad enough how often we just
don’t get pockets at all. But to put in utterly useless appearances
of pockets? With buttons? And little ridges of fabric that
must be harder to attach than an actual pocket? Insult to
It would be easy and tempting at this point to spout ridiculous
theories about conspiracies between makers of handbags and
makers of women’s dress pants.
It is also fairly predictable to let one’s mind stray to classic
feminist analysis about how women are themselves expected
to be mostly for decoration, not useful, not tramping around
independently without a guy to carry the money and the car
keys. That probably did inspire a lot of the weirdnesses of
women’s fashion we have. Salons are still allowed to charge
more for women’s haircuts, regardless of time or complexity,
and dry cleaners can charge more to launder the exact same
shirt if a woman brings it in. (Yes, it still happens!)
So certainly expecting women to wear uncomfortable clothes
just to keep it appropriately challenging to be sufficiently
feminine is not dead.
But I think there’s something more specific going on with
the pockets. A friend of mine who was bemoaning during her
last pregnancy the even more extreme paucity of maternity
clothes with pockets theorized that that’s because if you’re
already bulging a little, you don’t want to add any mass to
your midsection, since it might confuse onlookers into thinking
you were fat instead of pregnant.
What’s wrong with that picture? Let’s see, it was the pregnant
woman who theoretically wouldn’t want to appear fat. But it
was the makers of maternity clothes who made that choice
for her. Last time I checked, there was nothing about
a pocket that forced one to fill it with anything, let alone
Still, I think that is what they’re doing. In fact, I think
it’s what all the clothing manufacturers are doing. Women
are supposed to look a certain way—slender, generally, and
their clothes are supposed to accentuate that, fit a certain
way, look a certain way. The traditional look of pants expects
pockets in certain places, and they can be a design element.
But to prevent end users from using the product wrong—stuffing
a fat wallet in form-fitting slacks, for example, or a handkerchief,
or a handful of throat lozenges—they simply disallow it.
It’s a liability lawyer’s mentality: Prevent complaints about
the look of the clothes from foolish harpies who don’t know
how to dress by removing variables about how the product is
used. Even more important, prevent there from being any of
said foolish women out there in the world making their pants
Or if I’m being kinder, perhaps the reasoning goes more like:
Now women will like our clothes better because they won’t
accidentally hurt their ego on them, so to speak.
OK, OK. So this is perhaps only slightly less far-fetched
than the purse conspiracy. I don’t actually think anyone sits
around discussing clothing design in these terms explicitly.
And yet it fits so well into our culture of removing choice,
distrusting people’s common sense (and thereby weakening it
with disuse), and expecting that a manufacturer of a product
should have a say in how that product gets used.
Worrying about pregnant women’s body image for them is awfully
paternalistic, but not out of line with current trends.
Take my car. It won’t let me reach through a wide-open window
to unlock the doors without setting up a god-awful racket
(and we asked for no alarm). If I unlock it but then don’t
open a door for a given amount of time, say if I’m busy in
the trunk, it’ll relock itself. I appreciate that it’s trying
to keep itself from being stolen, but in plenty of circumstances,
such as camping at a small folk festival, it’s just being
a pain in my behind. And the real problem is there’s no off
switch. No choice.
Give me the pockets. I promise that when I go to the fancy
ball where the fashion photographers are I won’t ball up three
extra pair of pantyhose in them. Then again, if I decide to,
it’s none of your business.