A Pocket History of the Pocket

Historically the term pocket referred to a pouch worn around the waist by women. They were usually worn underneath their skirts and petticoats. Men didn't wear separate pockets as theirs were sewn into the linings of their coats and breeches.

In periods of history where women and girls had little or no domestic privacy or financial independence pockets provided them with security and privacy for letters, money and other keepsakes. However as fashions changed to slimmer silhouettes, pocket pouches could no longer be hidden under their skirts and instead reticules (a decorative purse) became the fashion. Reticules were very small with barely enough room for a hankie and a coin. Large reticules were looked down on because they suggested a woman worked and couldn't just stay at home. The prohibitive size of these reticules and the fact that they were worn on the outside of clothing meant women and girls no longer had somewhere for their private items, thus reducing their independence further.

Pockets suddenly not only became sexist but also were a means of control. Fashion historian Barbara Burman touched on this subject in her book "Pockets of History: The Secret Life of an Everyday Object". She wrote "The frustration and limitations of women's access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pockets."

In the mid 19th century women started to rebel. According to the V&A dress patterns started to include instructions for sewing pockets into skirts if you felt like being an "independent woman"! The Rational Dress Society founded in 1891 rallied for women to dress for comfort and health by ditching constrictive corsets and donning comfy, useful clothing such as trousers which of course had pockets. Side by side with The Rational Dress Society was of course the Suffragettes who believed women should have equal political and financial standing with men. Visible pockets on women's clothing were seen as hinting at female independence and suddenly the pocket became political. 

With both World Wars came a boom of utilitarian clothing for women who were now working. In the 1920s Coco Chanel incorporated pockets in her women's jackets. At last women's fashion had pockets but this was short lived. By the middle of the 20th century fashion had become obsessed with slimming women's silhouettes and pockets were once more cut out of designs. In 1954 Christian Dior supposedly said "Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration".  Much has been debated about how sexism dictates whether a garment gets usable pockets or not and whether a lack of pockets reinforces sexist ideas of gender. 

And so to this century. Much has changed for women and women's clothing, however not much has changed for pockets. Yes more clothing may have pockets but are the pockets big enough for your mobile? Along with your bank cards, keys etc? As long as women's clothes are without useful pockets, women will need to buy handbags. Now we all love a handbag but it does have its limitations. As the name suggests you need your hands to hold it, it is simply not the same as a useful hands free pocket.

At Mála Belfast we have tried to bridge the gap between the handbag and the pocket. It is true overfilled pockets can spoil the look of your outfit, can even pull your outfit off to one side which is so uncomfortable and annoying. But a handbag gets in the way and where do you store it with all your valuables when you are working or just out walking? And when your pockets are simply inadequate or non existent?

We have set out to create a product that solves the functionality and design needs of our customers by creating something that is useful and beautiful with an emphasis on designs that are adaptable that customers will want to use again and again. They can be used in place of a pocket or handbag but they also complement both. A Mala bag is a safe, secure pocket for your private and personal property. It has many uses from work to leisure and was recently used by one of the team when travelling to keep her phone, cards and passport safe, secure and to hand and no rummaging in handbags/backpacks for them. And of course it was colour coordinated with her outfit. No pockets, no problem when you own a Mála bag.