Skip to main content

Pocketful of Freedom: The Revolutionary Rise of Dress Pockets

August 22, 2023

At FatFace, we know that you have dogs to walk, little ones to wrangle and adventures to embark on. That’s why our focus is on creating clothes that strike the perfect balance between style and practicality. And a popular category that best showcases this is our dresses with pockets.

While we’re proud to say that over 75% of our dresses have pockets, they haven’t always been so easy to come by in women’s clothes. In fact, access to pockets has ebbed and flowed with societal expectations of women and general fashion trends throughout history.

With that said, let’s look at the history of dresses with pockets and find out how things are changing for the better. And if you relate to the common conundrum of wanting to be handbag free while having your essentials close at hand, make sure to shop our range of dresses with pockets.

A women wearing a navy, spotted, pocketed dress and a woman wearing a black and white striped dress.
A boy & a girl wearing colourful summer outfits complete with sun hats.

Pre-18th Century

In the pre-18th century, finding clothes with pockets was like finding a seat on the train at peak hour. Stressful, and very unlikely. However, men and women alike carried around small pouches to hold their belongings and all clothing was made with this in mind. Your average dress featured small slits to make this pouch easily accessible, meaning everyone was able to carry around a few coins and other essentials. Ironically, this pocketless time might be the last time women and men had equal access to pockets.

As the 1600s rolled around, we started seeing advances in fashion. People began to sew their pouches directly into their clothes, rather than donning and removing the same pouch day-to-day. And so, the gift of pockets was bestowed upon the world!

...Except mostly for men, really. While men’s pockets were sewn into the lining of their coats or jackets for easy access, women’s fashion at the time consisted of dresses with lots of layers of petticoats. Their pockets sat under all these layers meaning women basically had to get undressed to retrieve something from their now less-convenient pockets. What a faff it must’ve been.

The 18th Century

Women’s fashion of the 18th century kept evolving away from pockets. As petticoats continued to rule, women began to carry around purses for essentials - though these were often only large enough to fit a coin or two.

Fashion paralleled societal expectations of women staying at home. After all, why spend time integrating pockets into womenswear when they don’t need to carry anything anywhere? Or so the logic went. (They clearly didn’t think about snacks.) In just a couple of generations, we went from equal pocket-access to drastically less for women.

The 19th Century

Thankfully, this would all start to change in the 19th century.

With working class women longing for more practical styles, we see pockets reappearing on dress sewing patterns around the mid-1800s.

Additionally, the industrial revolution made clothing production faster, simpler, and cheaper. Making the addition of pockets to dresses an easier task and giving women more clothing options than ever before.

The Rational Dress Society also began in the late 19th century, becoming one of the first signs of organised movement for dress reform. They campaigned in earnest for more functionality in women’s clothing (drumroll please) which included pockets in skirts and dresses.

A woman wearing a light pink, floral patterned, pocketed dress.

The 20th Century

The early 20th century saw the rise of the suffrage movement. As women fought for the rights they’d been denied for far too long, one thing became a surprising battleground - you guessed it - pockets.

In 1910 the ‘suffragette suit’ became all the rage; a dress suit with six pockets, it represented how the fight for equality entwined with the need for functional fashion to enable independence. Wartime then pushed women into the workforce in greater numbers than ever before and fashion focused more on practicality by necessity. Women finally had the pockets denied to them since the 17th century. But this was short-lived.

When WWI ended, men came back into the day-to-day workforce in waves and the economy recovered. Women were once again relegated to the home, and more ‘feminine’ clothing came back into style. This, combined with the growth in the handbag industry, meant pockets were once again phased out.

This pattern continued throughout the 1900s. Even as trousers and other traditionally masculine garments became commonly worn by women, the pockets were, annoyingly, shrunk to a much smaller size in feminine styles.

Just like the 18th century, bags were the order of the day for women as their pockets were either non-existent or essentially useless.

A woman wearing a blue and purple, patterned, pocketed dress.

Dresses with Pockets Today

Over the course of the 21st century, we’ve thankfully seen an incredible shift back to incorporating pockets in dresses and other clothing targeted at women. Thanks to social media, the demand for pockets is at an all-time high. For example, Sara Maker from Threads Monthly points out the hashtag #ithaspockets (used by crafting and fashion communities to show off their dresses with pockets) has been used over 100,000 times. The TikTok hashtag #dresseswithpockets also has a massive 40m+ views!

The small, unassuming pocket has been a big source of contention throughout history, as it’s inextricably linked to women’s freedom of movement and their feeling of ease in relation to navigating public spaces. Plus, there’s no denying how handy they are.

Discover more