Women are big losers in the politics of pockets

The other day at a business conference, I watched as a hapless man asked one of the most fatuous questions in modern corporate life.

He worked for the audio team that had to attach a clunky microphone battery pack to all the speakers going on stage, and each time he approached a female panellist, he said: “Have you got an inside pocket in your jacket?”

It wasn’t his fault. Most of the male speakers did have such a pocket, into which the battery pack silkily slipped. But asking a woman if she has an inside jacket pocket is like asking if she has a ticket to the moon.

For reasons that continue to baffle, the fashion industry remains infuriatingly resistant to the internal female coat pocket, and is apt to make clothes without any useful pockets at all. The other day I bought a blazer that seemed to have three outside pockets, only to get home and discover one was in fact a Potemkin pocket, a fake slit sewn shut with nothing behind it.

This rubbish is also rife on women’s trousers, where pockets are typically feeble imitations of roomy male versions. Incredibly, the average front pockets in US women’s blue jeans are 48 per cent shorter and 6.5 per cent narrower than the equivalent in men’s jeans, say journalists at The Pudding publication.

After measuring dozens of pockets in 20 of the most popular jeans brands in 2018, they also found less than half of women’s front pockets could fit a thin wallet, let alone a phone and keys. Most would not fit the average woman’s hand beyond the knuckles.

This is good news for the $56bn global handbag market. But a lot of women would cheerfully do what men have done for centuries and carry everything we need in pockets.

Actually, women had pockets for ages too, big enough to hold the afterbirth from an illegitimate baby or a stolen duck, the Victoria and Albert Museum records. Things seemed to go downhill in the 19th century, when female fashion drifted towards more svelte lines and pockets began their journey to today’s uselessness.

I was muttering about this to anyone who would listen at the business conference when suddenly, a woman who was the chief executive of a very well-known company, said: “You need these.” She opened her smart blue suit jacket to reveal that inside there was not one but six pockets, including one with a highly desirable zip.

In them, she carried a work phone, a personal phone, her own business cards; cards others gave her; pens and a wallet. Also, she confided, her trousers all had properly sized pockets, side and back.

Where had she found this stuff? It was tailor-made by Gormley & Gamble whose founder, Phoebe Gormley, became the first womenswear-only tailor on Savile Row in 2015. All her jackets have at least one inside pocket, she told me when I visited her premises last week, and all her clients are thrilled to find it.

“They go, ‘Ooh! That’s so exciting!’.”

Those clients are women of means. Gormley’s prices start at £1,650 for a fully bespoke jacket and £550 for made-to-measure options. But why can’t high street retailers include an inside pocket that Gormley reckons would cost no more than £3 per jacket to add?

I asked a few. H&M said it had no comment. So did Reiss. Zara’s owner, Inditex, said at least two of its “classic tailoring” blazers had inside pockets but did not say what proportion of all its jackets did.

Women clearly face more dire problems than this, but as Gormley says, it’s also wrong that high street womenswear typically comes in a fraction of the size permutations available in menswear: classic, slim, extra slim; short, long or regular leg, and so on.

The result, she says, is that “when men don’t find clothes that fit them, they say, ‘That’s the clothes’ fault’,” and look for a better fit. Women, having far fewer options, blame themselves instead. “It makes women feel like they hate their body,” she says.

Ultimately, a more pocket-equal world would suit everyone, including men. Imagine going out without ever again hearing those tedious words, “Have you got room to carry my phone?”

pilita.clark@ft.com



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