Saturday, February 18, 2017

Stuff I Love: The Quest for Pockets

Co-worker: "I love your dress! It's so cute. Are you going on a date tonight?"
Me: "Thanks! It has pockets."
Co-worker: "Oh My God - pockets?! Are they functional pockets?"
Me: "Yes, it is the greatest thing ever. My phone fits in the pockets of this dress. It's magical."
Co-worker: "Pockets in dresses are the best. Are you going on a date tonight?"
Me: (Slowly backs away without answering the question, carried off in an awkward haze of not wanting to share about my dating life but also smug satisfaction that I have a dress with pockets and she doesn't.)

And scene.

I have some variation of this conversation every time I wear one of the two dresses I own that have pockets. Both dresses are awesome; one is a floral number I bought for my cousin's wedding last year but is, with the right level of accessories, appropriate to wear to work (it's called a day dress for a reason). The other is a black sheath dress I bought on a whim/sale at the Gap Outlet four years ago. Because it's black, I can make it truly magnificent by adding colorful sweaters, funky shoes, or tights for cold weather days. When I wear either dress, I'm immediately impressed that the pockets are larger than most of the pockets on any pants or jeans I own AND that they don't ruin any of the "sleek lines" of design of either garment. They're functional and fashionable. I'm also 100% serious when I say that I can fit my phone in the pockets and I have a Galaxy S6. It is not a small phone but it fits securely with room to spare in my dress pockets. Take that jeans!

What an attractive family! And look at that dress (it has pockets).
Why are pockets in women's clothes such a problem? Some would argue it's the inherent sexism that exists in the modern fashion industry. Most design houses that cater to mass market type fashion are dominated by men who focus more on production than thinking through function for the wearer. Another argument would be the focus on a specific type of woman when designing fashion: slender, sleek, and lithe. Adding a pocket to a pair of pants for that woman would ruin the beautiful line a designer is trying to make. Yet another argument: Hips are problem areas. Adding a pocket would add unnecessary bulk to an area most women want to mask or hide. Want another one? Women have to carry so many things all day, everyday. A pocket will never suffice; all women should carry a purse.

I remember some variation of at least two of these "arguments" coming up when I was taking costume design classes in college. One of the textbooks was a historical survey of design and I remember reading a passage about the evolution of pocket design (this is seriously a thing) in women's clothing and the impact on costume design. Costume design is different than fashion design on many levels, one of which is the level of functionality of a garment. With a costume, functionality is not about everyday wear; it's about conveying a character and ease of wear for an actor. You can actually design costumes to hide functional details like pockets if needed. I've done this for costumes before and it's can be easy to do. Need a pocket on a dress that can't actually have pockets? Build it into the bodice or inner breast area of a coat (like a man's suit jacket has). You can also hide them with decorative touches if you can't build into a the interior of a garment. Despite the ability to mask or hide in costuming, the persistent argument of "problem areas" was still a thing. No woman likes to think about her hips so don't call attention to them! Leave the pockets to the men! Give her a purse!!

It's interesting to think about the role of technology on the design of clothes. The development of the smartphone has caused a fair amount of disruption in the fashion industry especially when it comes to things like pockets. Now purses have to have pockets large enough to fit an iPhone or Android. There's an entire industry, cell phone accessories, that has been created to accommodate the rise of larger phones. However, most other fashion hasn't caught up, especially when dealing with women's fashion. Skinny jeans, the bane of most people's fashion existence, are probably some of the worst offenders when it comes to having to deal with pockets and phones. The Atlantic had a story about this in 2014, just as the iPhone6 was being released. I remember reading this article when it came out originally and was able to find it again for you (woohoo Google). The author, Tanya Basu, explored the slow pace of the fashion industry to acknowledge technology and the need for women to have freedom with their clothes in the way men typically do. Fake pockets don't solve the problem; in fact, they make most people (myself included) rage-ful. If designers aren't thinking about pockets for obvious items like pants and coats, why would they consider them for dresses and skirts?

There is hope but only if you enjoy spandex and athletic activities. Athletic wear is probably the one place where technology and fashion come together; the way pockets are integrated into athletic wear is pretty great. From hidden interior pockets to kangaroo pouches that don't add bulk to accessories that do the heavy lifting, this group has got it done. The rise of althleisure wear is a testament to the power of function and fashion. What Basu wrote in 2014 is still relevant in 2017: Just make a pocket that work. This shouldn't be that hard.

I hate shopping for jeans. Part of the challenge with jeans is that I find a style I like and when I go back a few months later to the same store, they've changed everything and no longer make that style or fit (I'm looking at you Old Navy and Gap and Michael Kors). I'm not a skinny jeans person but I don't want to wear "mom" jeans either. I like boot cut, curvy at the hips (since I have them and they should look nice in jeans), with functional pockets. If I can't fit my phone in the front pocket, I don't buy them. I call this the pocket test (in my head). I've acquiesced a few times over the years and have usually regretted it later. Recently, I discovered Simply Vera, Vera Wang's line at Kohl's. Her jeans are designed with the most magical front pockets ever. I can fit my phone and my keys in the pockets (not the same pocket). It's liberating and wonderful. I imagine this is how dudes feel when they put stuff in their pockets and leave the house. (Pro tip: she also includes pockets in some of her dress designs. Modcloth and Dress Barn are also excellent sources for dresses with pockets.)

Pockets in women's clothing isn't a frivolous issue. It's actually about agency and ownership. As I wrote last week and have written before, clothes are important even if you don't spend a lot of time thinking about what you wear. I like to feel comfortable and fashionable when I put any of my clothes on. I also want to feel effortless. When I buy clothes I don't want to spend time and money having to alter them (or do it myself since I can sew) because they were almost what I wanted but I couldn't find what I wanted so I had to settle. When it comes to clothes, jobs, or significant others, don't settle. We're all better than that.

Get out there and demand functional pockets in your clothes. You'll thank me for it later.

Next week: The final "Stuff I Love" post for 2017. I'm planning a very exciting discussion magazines from my childhood and the rise of Teen Vogue as the most hard-hitting news source out there.

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