Everyday sexism

Watch: A brief history of why most Indian women's clothes don't have pockets

'Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.'

The lack of pockets in women’s clothing has been a universal concern for decades.

“Women have from time to time carried bags, sometimes sewn in, sometimes tied on, sometimes brandished in the hand, but a bag is not a pocket,” wrote Charlotte P Gilman for The New York Times in 1905. “One supremacy there is in men’s clothing… its adaptation to pockets.”

Gilmann was writing at a time when pockets were stitched on to women’s clothing in the US – this change ran parallel to the suffragette movement. Working women had started asserting their freedom to wear trousers and suits (which were worn almost exclusively by men) to symbolise gender parity.

Indians, meanwhile, were far from realising the sartorial bias of pocket-free clothing. This is because the British followed the Victorian style of clothing – trousers with pockets for men, and voluminous, inconvenient skirts with petticoats for women.

The video above shows how the colonial legacy created the model for Indian clothing in the years to come – eventually, women devised their own pockets in traditional outfits – for instance, by tucking valuables into their blouses. Women everywhere dealt with the absence of pockets with a purse. British stateswoman Margaret Thatcher even put her handbags to good use as a weapon.

Even after pockets became available to women through trousers in the late 20th century, the garment industry imposed yet another barrier called “fake” pockets.

Perhaps, the only neutral element that has been able to steer forward this debate are the ever-growing size of cell phones. While this has prompted some designers to respond to women’s needs in Western and Indian clothing, a majority of garments continue to focus on the beauty of pockets, not their utility.

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