Hands up: fash­ion trend Why pock­ets are so much more than just a

Chanel started the trend in the 1930s, and this sea­son, pock­ets were all over the cat­walks again. But they sig­nify so much more than just a mere fash­ion trend, says

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside - An­n­marie O’Con­nor


When it comes to women’s cloth­ing, noth­ing in­duces envy quite like a de­cent set of pock­ets. In­stead we get small pock­ets, flap pock­ets, stitched pock­ets, fake pock­ets (aka ‘fock­ets’). Real deal pock­ets that can hold more than a fin­ger­tip or a credit card – not so much. It’s not a big ask. Af­ter all, if men can have them, why can’t we?

And therein lies the rub. Dis­creetly hid­den or loud and proud, their pres­ence is more than a mere prac­ti­cal­ity; it’s a state­ment of in­tent. With them, woman have hands-free flex­i­bil­ity; with­out them, we have hand­bags. Granted, arm candy may be sweet but there’s some­thing equally savoury about walk­ing breezily, hand in pocket down the street.

Pock­ets have proven their uni­sex ap­peal since me­dieval times. Early ver­sions of the pocket hung from waist­tied belts, a fore­run­ner of the di­vi­sive fanny pack. Pat­tern-mak­ing soon ac­com­mo­dated in­ter­nal pock­ets in menswear whereas women con­tin­ued to re­quire wear­ing pock­ets about their per­son, al­beit un­der­neath lay­ers of pet­ti­coats. In­con­ve­nient when in need of the loo; handy when har­bour­ing snacks and a nee­dle- point kit, or in­deed, con­ceal­ing them from thieves.

Pock­ets were fur­ther cham­pi­oned in the late 18th cen­tury by the Ra­tio­nal Dress Move­ment when first wave fem­i­nists swapped tight-laced corsets, em­pire line sil­hou­ettes (think Jane Austen hero­ines) and dainty retic­ules (a pre­cur­sor to the mod­ern mala) for func­tional gar­ments like pock­eted bloomers.

So­cial mo­bil­ity may have de­manded func­tion but so­cial sta­tus re­lied heav­ily on fash­ion. Take the 19th cen­tury chate­laine – a dec­o­ra­tive waist-tied belt hook fit­ted with chains that held house­hold items like scis­sors, keys and thim­bles but, more im­por­tantly, came to rep­re­sent per­sonal agency and do­min­ion of the house­hold – a sym­bol of pres­tige.

Come the 20th cen­tury, the mo­bil­ity of women in the work­place dic­tated a dif­fer­ent set of sar­to­rial norms as pock­ets re­gained their cache. Elsa Schi­a­par­elli fit­ted her wartime ‘cash and carry’ col­lec­tion with large patch pock­ets – os­ten­si­bly for car­ry­ing air raid masks and ra­tion cards; while Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Lau­rent trans­lated ne­ces­sity into less bi­nary terms, par­lay­ing the ease of menswear onto the fe­male form. The re­sult? The iconic four- pocket Chanel jacket and YSL ‘Le Smok­ing’ suit – em­blems of eman­ci­pa­tion for the mod­ern woman.

Ru­mour has it, Saint Lau­rent him­self en­cour­aged his mod­els to cat­walk hand in pocket so as to af­fect a self-as­sured swag­ger. Could this so­cial body lan­guage be that which en­dears women to the per­fect pocket – the abil­ity to evoke both mood and at­ti­tude?

Sonya Len­non, co-de­signer at Len­non Court­ney thinks so. “Pock­ets for women are so much more about how we present our­selves, and how we stand, and how we look in con­trol. We like our bags and we like our re­cep­ta­cles to be the ex­ter­nal and when we de­sign with pock­ets, we know that women who are go­ing to use them are go­ing to use them for their stance and not to carry.” Not only do bags bear most of the car­ry­ing bur­den but they’ve be­come badges of iden­tity in and of them­selves – a way to find one’s tribe in the in­creas­ingly fickle fash­ion jun­gle. If hand­bags are, in­deed, an ex­ter­nal sym­bol of sta­tus, then pock­ets are most def­i­nitely one of in­ter­nal re­bel­lion. Think about it: there’s some­thing sub­tly sub­ver­sive about the pock­eted stance. What it con­ceals, it also re­veals. Whereas hands on the hips as­serts a stance of power, the pocket pos­ture im­plies it has noth­ing to prove.

Take the peer­less pantsuit saunter of sil­ver screen scions like Mar­lene Dietrich and Katharine Hep­burn or the care­free el­bow crook of An­jel­ica Hus­ton – women who, com­fort­able in their own skin, defy def­i­ni­tion. Add in Vic­to­ria Beck­ham’s newly ac­quired flat-shoed, perma-pock­eted stance (a far cry from her Girl Power days) and the pur­pose­ful ap­peal is ev­i­dent. It’s this seem­ingly ca­sual but slightly cal­cu­lated at­ti­tude that makes women will­ing to trade a vi­tal or­gan in ex­change for the pocket pos­ture.

“If a man didn’t want to utilise his pocket to ca­su­alise his de­meanour, he could even go cow­boy and use his belt loops – hang him­self off some­thing in a stand­ing po­si­tion - and women haven’t re­ally had that and I think there’s an el­e­ment of a non­cha­lant mas­culin­ity about a pocket that al­lows a woman to hang her­self off her­self and look much more in con­trol,” says Len­non.

In­deed, this off­hand ease found am­ple ex­pres­sion in the spring/sum­mer 17 col­lec­tions from over­sized pock­ets and pouch belts at Marni, to slouchy pa­perbag waists at Stella McCart­ney; while the au­tumn/win­ter 17 of­fer­ing of slouchy sep­a­rates and pantsuits (Dries Van Noten, Prada, Re­jina Pyo and Jil San­der amongst oth­ers) demon­strate a more con­sid­ered con­fi­dence. De­spite this seem­ing equa­nim­ity, not all pock­ets are cre­ated equal.

De­spite the ob­vi­ous shift in mood, fake, mis­er­able and ut­terly use­less pock­ets are still at large, so much so that the #we­want­pock­ets move­ment has cre­ated its own pocket of re­sis­tance (pun in­tended) on so­cial me­dia. Stylist Natasha Crow­ley shares this pain. “For me and, in­deed, for a lot of my clients, a good pocket can be a deal breaker when it comes to buy­ing a piece,” she ex­plains. “Al­though a pocket doesn’t lend it­self to all items of cloth­ing but where a de­cent pocket would be able to fit then why not add it? Ideally, I would like to, at least, be able to fit my phone com­fort­ably in my pocket when I’m work­ing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.” By ex­ten­sion, how crest­fallen have many of us been to dis­cover our pock­ets are, in fact, ‘fock­ets’ (slang for fake pock­ets) - not the ones that are tem­po­rar­ily sewn shut but rather the fraud­u­lent flaps that do lit­tle other than get our hopes up only to make us feel cheated. It’s the sar­to­rial equiv­a­lent of a bro­ken prom­ise.

De­sign dic­tates aside, the pocket de­bate con­tin­ues to highlight some­thing fun­da­men­tal in the fab­ric of women’s fash­ion. Hand­bags may fin­ish an out­fit but pock­ets – they start the con­ver­sa­tion. “It’s got pock­ets?” you ask. Wait ‘til I tell you!

HANDS UP: A look from the Re­jina Pyo Au­tumn/Win­ter col­lec­tion 2017.

Ac­tress Blake Lively at­tends the 74th An­nual Golden Globe Awards and dips her hands into some vel­vet as she poses.

Kirsten Dunst gets a hand­ful of cover at the Os­cars in Fe­bru­ary.

Dries Van Noten’s col­lec­tion at the Au­tum/Win­ter 2017-2018 ready-to-wear col­lec­tion in Paris .

Prada em­braced the pocket at Au­tumn/Win­ter 2017/2018 Fash­ion Week in Mi­lan.

Evan Rachel Wood at the Golden Globes.

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