The History of Women's Pockets

Pockets and Suffragists

Nicknamed the "suffragist suit", the six-pocket attire was very popular among women during the suffragist movement. 

Victorian Era Pockets

This is what a pocket looked like during hte Victorian Era. Back then, pockets were more like small purses and were detachabale from the actual clothing. 

To fully understand the history of the pocket in women’s clothes, we will begin by examining the pocket during the Victorian Era. During this era, the women’s pocket was intentionally designed to have as little function as possible and was primarily used for disciplinary purposes.[1] Because of the rise of consumerism during this time period, women were beginning to leave the house, which threatened the patriarchal society of the time. To combat this, women’s pockets were made to be purposefully debilitating and easy to pickpocket in an effort to inhibit women from participating in the economy. [2]

The pocket also went against what women were supposed to look like at the time. Women’s clothes during this era were designed to accentuate the female body. Articles of clothing such as the corset enforced the ideal body shape of the time. Those who were against having functional pockets in women’s clothing argued that, “items in a garment pocket would spoil the line of a woman’s frock,” which in turn would make the garment less visually appealing.[3] Unfortunately, this is an argument that to some degree still persists today. 

Fast forward to the beginning of the 20th century, women’s pockets played a major role in the suffragist movement. Adding multiple pockets to women’s clothing was a way in which suffragists rebelled against the male dominated society they were living in.[4] For these women the role of the pocket wasn’t just about functionality, but it was a symbol for the independence they were fighting for. 

In the 1950s, women’s clothing gradually became tighter and tighter, leaving no room for the pocket. This forced women to purchase bottomless pits known as handbags and purses.[5] Purses and handbags are cumbersome due to the fact that it takes ages to actually find what you are looking for, which in some ways mirror how the pocket during the Victorian Era was meant to inhibit women. Fashion may look very different today than it has in the past, but a lot of the ways in which women’s fashion was used to suppress women still exist today. 


[1] Samantha Fitch, The Gendered Pocket: Fashion and Patriarchal Anxieties about the Female Consumer in Select Victorian Literature (PhD diss., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2017), 4.

[2] Fitch, The Gendered Pocket: Fashion and Patriarchal Anxieties about the Female Consumer in Select Victorian Literature, 4.

[3] Nathalie Atkinson, The Politics of Pockets and Women's Wear: It May Seem like a Small Detail, but Pockets in Women's Wear Can Be Considered a Feminist Issue (The Globe and Mail, 12 May 2019), 4.

[4] Erin Cavanaugh, The Power of the Pocket (See Rose Go, See Rose Go, 22 July 2019).

[5] Cavanaugh, The Power of Pockets.

Prev Next