A Pocket History of Sexism | Dovetail Workwear

Where did pockets come from?

Through the middle ages, satchels ruled supreme. Clothing featured a slit into which you could reach to access a small bag that held your belongings. Then came the 17th century when, finally, someone said, “Why not just sew the pouch… INTO the clothes?!” Even those rudimentary pockets were gender-biased. Men’s pockets were, as today, sewn into every garment: coats, waistcoats, breeches, pants – they could access the things they carried anytime. Women weren’t so lucky. Women often wore large tie-on pockets lodged underneath their petticoats. If she wanted to get one of her items, she’d have to undress, making pockets useless in public.

How a tie-on pocket sat under a petticoat, via the Albert and Victoria Museum
How a tie-on pocket sat under a petticoat, via the Albert and Victoria Museum

When more fitted clothing came into style, tie-on pockets fell out of fashion. Still, our sisters of the past continued to fight the good fight. Founded in 1891, the Rational Dress Society encouraged women to dress for health, ditching corsets in favor of clothing like boneless stays, bloomers, and loose trousers that allowed for movement, especially bicycling. It hit its pinnacle just around the turn of the century, when men’s suits sported somewhere around 15 pockets.

"One supremacy there is in men’s clothing… its adaptation to pockets," New York Times reporter Charlotte P. Gilman wrote in 1905. "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."

In 1910, suffragette suits with 6+ pockets became all the rage. As the World Wars began, women recruited to work turned to more practical clothing, with trousers and large pockets becoming the norm for women through the 1940s.

1940s star Marlene Dietrich wears the pants– trousers with deep pockets, to be exact.
1940s star Marlene Dietrich wears the pants– trousers with deep pockets, to be exact.

Why are men’s pockets bigger than women’s?

Of course, everything changed when WWII ended, and men returned to their jobs. An ultra-feminization of women’s fashion, led by Christian Dior’s 1947 New Look, shrunk or removed functional pockets in women’s clothing. In fact, Dior is quoted as saying “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration." Combined with the growing designer handbag market, designers made women’s pockets miniscule or worse… fake!   

Size Difference Between Men’s and Women’s Pockets


A comparison of the average size of a woman’s pocket (red) and a man’s pocket (yellow), via Pudding.cool

From leggings to low-rise pants to skinny jeans, fashion brands continue to make women’s pants that ‘look good’–and pockets that work terribly. A 2018 study of 80 pairs of jeans found that the average pockets in women’s jeans are 48% shorter and 6.5% narrower than men’s pockets. They also calculated that only 10% of the women’s pants had front pockets that could accommodate a whole hand…. While a hand could fit in 100% (ALL) of the men’s pant styles.

Women Need Better Pockets

Every woman knows this, but for women in manual occupations, excellent pocketing contributes hugely to safety and performance. Your pants are a tool on the job, and if your tool is inadequate, you can’t do your job well. Tool belts can drag on the waist (especially if the pants are not well fitted), causing discomfort. In addition, an encumbered waist can drag the pant leg down, becoming a trip hazard. In our pants and overalls, our comprehensive pocketing system becomes the tool belt that you wear—safely, and beautifully. Dovetail has put 1 million real pockets on working women across North America in just a few years– and we’re just getting started.


One hand in our pocket…. 

… And that’s the bare minimum. During every fit session, co-founder and fit model Kate Day has been putting her hands in every pocket of every prototype – weekly, sometimes twice a week, for years. In every single fit session, cofounder/product development director Sara DeLuca and she check…

  • Where hands land in each pocket – it must be natural, and work for any hand size. 
  • If they obstruct any movement. For example, our long tool pocket is low, flush and slender so tools don’t bang around.
  • If the pockets maximize real estate and protection. Some of our pockets have open bottoms so sharp objects don’t cut into the fabric. Most are closed.

Utility is also checked against how the system works best for style. Dovetail doesn't sacrifice fit or function – we ensure the best of both. We continue to make improvements from weartester and consumer feedback.

Dovetail Workwear’s Pocket Innovations

  • The front pocket of the Freshley overalls has a Twine Hole™. You can thread twine, wire, yarn or any other stringy thing through this neat bib eyelet to keep from losing your spool.

Product namesake Britt asked for a Hip Slot™ to store her tape measure. Initially we thought to plunk in front for easy access. Then we realized it would cut into the wearer when bending, so we moved it to the back right hip – in reach, but out of the way. 

Britt and her trusty tape measure, pencils, ruler, and level. 
Britt and her trusty tape measure, pencils, ruler, and level.

This Spring, our new DX Bootcut will have a shot pocket. This innovation was suggested by weartester and DX Ranch cowgirl Kelsey Ducheneaux for ranchers and farmers who need to carry veterinary innoculation supplies. We made it versatile enough to hold anything that sits snug and shallow – it’s perfect for AirPods.

Kelsey in the saddle, featuring the shot pocket.

Kelsey in the saddle, featuring the shot pocket.

We’ll also be releasing the new Britt X soon! This new version of the Britt Utility offers 2 new pockets, for a total of 13! One is a zippered pocket on the front side of your right thigh, the perfect place for your cards and cash. 

Want to dig deeper into our pockets? Check out this Style Comparison chart to see how our pocket systems vary.


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