Challenge 10: Rethinking Women’s Pockets

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When you have to go out, whether to the supermarket, to grab a meal with friends or just to go on a casual walk. Regardless of where you go, you usually have to bring with you few things: wallet, cellphone, key, ID card. You put on your t-shirt and jeans and then you realize — your pocket isn’t large enough to hold any of those items. The truth is that compared to men’s clothing, women’s clothing tends to have smaller pockets that are barely functional, if they are present at all. 

The history of pockets in women’s fashion is long and often associated with sexism and political disempowerment. Since the fashion industry has been and still is dominated by men, women’s clothing is designed for beauty, often reducing pockets to mere decorational elements. This approach to pockets is founded in specific historical trends. In the past, women were not allowed to have money and so were forced to walk around with small pouches, publicizing their dissenting rather than obscuring it. Emerging from that history, we see the problem of pockets as distinctly gendered: the smaller women’s pockets are, the less they can carry and the less freedom they have, limiting women’s independence to navigate public spaces or to travel alone.

As a result, our research for challenge 10 focuses on how current retail brands design women’s pocket on different clothing items (jeans, blazers, skirts, dresses, and jackets) and whether those designs are actually functional from a user perspective. For our research, we visited CambridgeSide Galleria to analyze two kinds of brands: (1) casual brands (Gap, H&M, and Aeropostale which are associated with teen fashion and lower prices). (2) business + high-end brands (J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor which are associated with quality and prestige).

Findings:

  • Blazers: Compared to travel jacket, the blazers at J Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor tend to have smaller pockets so at to maintain the shape of garment. Pockets are often sown shut, giving the customer to choose whether to use the pocket or leave it as a decoration.
  • Travel Jacket: For travel jacket at H&M, Gap, and Aeropostale, the pockets are not only visible, but spacious. You can also find multiple interior pockets as well. On the flip side, this level of pocket visibility is a contemporary trend in fashion and which is associated with younger audiences and therefore not present in the more ‘sophisticated’ brands. 
  • Jeans: We did not try on the pants for fit, but instead tested the pockets with an iPhone. This means that every pocket fits less than was shown in our photos (see below). From all the jeans we looked at in all the stores we visited, only the Boyfriend Jeans from Gap, sporting a casual, loose fit, could feasibly fit an iPhone into the front pocket as well as the back. On average, women are often worried that their phones will fall out of their pockets, either front or back. Our findings give ample foundation for this fear, as the pockets of many jeans we encountered were not even deep enough to fit a credit card. We also discovered that the tighter the jeans are, the higher possibility those jeans have shallow or “fake” pockets that come with limited or no functionality, like Gap’s Jeggings (Jean + Leggings).
  • Dress: The big divide between casual and business fashion brands can be seen in their approach to dress pocket design. For brands such as Gap and Aeropostale, the dress often comes with pockets along the seam of the dress, which shouldn’t affect the dress’s shape but at the same time can store some personal items. In more business brands like J Crew, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, their dress often had no pocket. However, when they did, those pockets were also positioned in-line with the seam of the dress and hidden from view.  

Sources:

The Politics of Pockets

The hunt for women’s clothes with pockets

The weird complicated sexist history of pockets

The power of a pocket

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