Pockets in Time: A Brief History of Pockets

Image via Diary of a Mantua Maker

Pockets are, without question, pretty awesome things. It’s hard to imagine where you’d tuck your lip balm or cell phone, or how you’d keep your hands warm when you forget your mittens, if pockets weren’t around. But believe it or not, there was a time — quite a long time, really — before pockets.

Pockets came to be in the 1600s, but they weren’t the same kind of pockets we all know and love. The earliest pockets were worn beneath other garments, attached to a belt that you could wear under your skirt, and were accessed through an opening in the top layers of an outfit. Wide hoop skirts even allowed ladies room to carry a wealth of items in sets of pockets tied around their waists.

Even though they were worn out of sight beneath outer layers, some fashionable women still decorated their pockets with intricate embroidery and patterns, like the example above. Then, around 1790 styles started changing, and as less-voluminous skirts came into fashion, less room was left for tie-on pockets. Soon, bags replaced pockets in ladies fashion as the cargo-carrier of choice, but the sewn-in pocket that we all know and love came along shortly thereafter, when they were mentioned in The Workwoman’s Guide in 1838. You can check out some examples of pockets of the past in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s pocket collection, and learn more about their pocket exhibit here.

If all this make you long for new pockets of your own, you can shop our selection of dresses with pockets or check out a few of our faves, below!

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  1. Cyra 01/13/2014 at 4:07 pm #

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  2. silviagsanta 01/16/2014 at 1:46 pm #

    I use one like the first picture for my spanish folk costumes.

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