Zanele Kumalo.
Zanele Kumalo.
Image: Supplied

I remember the first item of clothing I carefully twisted around, back to front, side to side, turning it inside out, in search of the silky entrance to a crawl space or the resistance from a flap of fabric that would reveal a pouch, and then feeling triumphant. Ha! I had fulfilled one rite of passage that I’d always envied about the men who take it for granted.

One that required that I find at least one pocket before I could take a new coat or pair of pants home after a shopping trip. How could I spend serious money on an investment piece that didn’t have tailoring that considered small, but not insignificant, trimmings?

Mic’s former senior style writer, Rachel Lubitz, writes that, “Women’s clothes didn’t really have internal pockets for most of history, even while men’s started appearing in the late 1600s. According to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, while pockets in menswear were often sewn directly into garments (like they still are today), women had to get crafty and wrap a sack with a string around their waists and tuck it way under their petticoats.”

Why do men get all the pockets, and if women get them, they’re invisible, shallow or just too small? Data has shown that women’s pockets are half the size of men’s, according to a Daily Beast article on the subject. It seems to reflect the scope of each gender’s social, political and financial freedom.

Two of my much-loved and much-worn suits may be power but they lack the lesser-spotted suitable pocket — as do most of the items in my wardrobe. So I love borrowing jackets and coats from boyfriends to make up for this shortcoming. I wonder if they know how the much-overlooked feature gives them such a meaningful advantage in life.

The debate around the gender politics of pockets has long been waged from both fitting- and boardrooms. As far back as 1905, over 20 years after the Rational Dress Society was founded in London to protest against clothing that restricted the movement of a woman’s body, such as corsets and high heels, The New York Times writer Charlotte P Gilman wrote of “one supremacy there is in men’s clothing… its adaptation to pockets,” continuing, “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.”

That’s my
lusting — I look
at a seemingly secret part of men’s clothing and I want

The Daily Beast article continues that, “This discrepancy isn’t just annoying — it also creates a practical burden for women trying to carry their phone, their wallet, or anything larger than a credit card.” Do men know how lucky they are?

That’s my lusting — I look at a seemingly secret part of men’s clothing and I want. The freedom of being able to plunge hands into deep, and sometimes multiple pockets that can hold a fistful of keys, cellphone, wallet, and the joy of being handsfree. Or not having to think of alternatives to transport a tampon or sanitary towel from desk to bathroom, which a lot of men don’t have to consider. Imagine if women had those same pockets. Even if empty, they’d give us the room to hide hands from the cold or bury a sense of unease.

HAND OUTS

Men get unsolicited pockets to squirrel away their possessions and, encouraged by the plague of toxic masculinity, their emotions too. God forbid society knows how you feel! Handbags are marketed to women to carry what society packs onto them: makeup, “having it all”, and outwardly having to perform for male attention. This disparity is a political and a social indication of each of our mental loads. Especially now that we know that heteronormativity and binaries are not the only normal. But even as gender lines become more fluid, clothing remains a political statement when you’re a man who shops at a traditionally women’s store or picks items marketed towards women. More so than a woman who rejects the notion of heels as code for professionalism or femininity. When men and women can freely choose whether they want to wear makeup, when the responsibilities of child rearing and managing the household are shared, and when the burden of conforming is done away with, it will mean that the outdated labels of menswear and womenswear might leave us all to be carefree.

Shouldn’t a man be able to stuff a handkerchief, BB cream and wet wipes for the kids into his Louis Vuitton purse? I can’t wait for my future husband to ask me to hold his bag on a night out so he can pose for a photo. But only after I’ve asked him to keep my car keys in it first.

Former editor Kumalo now runs a content studio What Zan Did Next

From the July edition of Wanted 2019.

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