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Original photo by Victoria Chudinova/ shutterstock
Why Don’t Women’s Clothes Have Pockets? And Other Fashion Oddities, Explained
Read Time: 5m
Article image
Original photo by Victoria Chudinova/ shutterstock

If you know one thing about how women’s clothing tends to differ from menswear, it’s that garments made for women are often sorely lacking in pockets. On dresses? Usually nonexistent. Pants? So small as to be functionally useless. According to one study, the disparity is even more severe than you might expect: On average, the pockets in women’s jeans are 6.5% narrower and 48% shorter than those on men’s jeans. A number of companies now seek to correct this oversight, although many legacy brands have yet to get with the times.

But why is this lack of pockets a problem in the first place? And while we’re at it, what’s up with that tiny pocket on everyone’s jeans, or the V-shaped stitching on many sweatshirts? Here are the answers to a few common questions about the clothes in your closet.

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Why Don’t Women’s Clothes Have Pockets?

Stylish women's luxury clothes display.
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In the late 1600s, women didn’t have pockets in their clothing at all — they had belts with attached pockets that they usually wore under their skirts and accessed via small slits that were meant to be essentially invisible. These were spacious enough to carry everything from fruit to gloves, and often as stylish as the purses of today. Purses themselves became more fashionable (and functional) as dresses got smaller and less conducive to covert storage. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that pockets were regularly sewn directly into women’s clothing; for a time, most of them were even larger than men’s pockets.

Then the same thing happened to pants and other garments that had happened to dresses: Smaller, more form-fitting variants became in vogue, making it more difficult to accommodate large pockets. The line of thought was that they ruined the female silhouette, which brings us to perhaps the main crux of this issue: gender inequality.

Women have long entreated the fashion industry to elevate function to the same level as form. The Rationalist Dress Society was founded in 1891 to push back against corsets and other constricting garments in favor of clothing that was more comfortable and useful, but it wasn’t until World War II that this really happened en masse — and even that was only because women were performing jobs that had previously been the sole province of men. If you’ve seen A League of Their Own, you already know what happened once the war ended: Things went back to the way they were. Small steps have been made since then, of course, but by and large women are still forced to deal with tiny pockets.

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Why Do Sweatshirts Have Those Vs on Them?

Close-up of a mens yellow sweatshirt.
Credit: Lev Dolgachov/ Alamy Stock Photo

Ever notice how some of your sweatshirts have V-shaped stitching under the collar? Known by some as a V-insert and by others as a Dorito (yum!), this strange little detail seems like it doesn’t really do anything, so far as most of us can tell, and some might find it a strange design choice. However, the V-stitch can serve not one, but two purposes (and you thought it was pointless!).

The first has to do with the structural integrity of the sweatshirt. As these garments are worn by placing one’s noggin directly through the collar, they’re prone to stretching. V-inserts originally included elastic ribbing that promoted stretch and prevented the material from losing shape. The second reason has to do with sweat, which has a way of permeating crewnecks and letting the world see how much that last workout raised your heart rate. Ribbed V-stitches absorb some of this perspiration, keeping us looking fresh even when we aren’t feeling that way.

While it’s true that many V-inserts you’ll see today are purely decorative, as they aren’t ribbed, some uphold the traditions of yore and keep our sweaters looking like they did the day you bought them. Thanks, V-stitch.

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What’s That Tiny Pocket in My Jeans?

Blue front jeans pocket.
Credit: bloom/ Shutterstock

Ever notice the tiny pocket-within-a-pocket in your jeans? As a kid you may have put small change in there, whereas most adults tend to forget it even exists. Despite all the names it’s had throughout time — frontier pocket, coin pocket, and ticket pocket being just a few — it originally had a specific purpose that didn’t pertain to any of those objects: It was a place to put your watch.

Originally called waist overalls when Levi Strauss & Co. first began making them in 1879, the company’s jeans have always had this dedicated spot for pocket watches — especially those worn by miners, carpenters, and the like. They only had three other pockets (one on the back and two on the front) at the time, making the watch pocket especially prominent. As for why it’s stuck around, the answer seems to be a familiar one: People were used to it and no one felt inclined to phase it out.

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What About That Loop on the Back of My Button-Down?

Close-up of the small loop of fabric on the back of a button down shirt.
Credit: Ranta Images/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you were to go pick a button-down shirt out of your closet and examine the back of it, you might find something surprising: a small loop of fabric an inch or two below the collar. The origin of locker loops, as they’re known, involves sailors, the Ivy League, and the mid-20th century. Having just heard their name, you can likely guess why they exist: Hanging shirts is a handy, efficient way to store them.

Locker loops are believed to have first appeared on the uniforms of East Coast sailors, whose ships tended to have lockers rather than closets, and their function was twofold: They saved space and prevented wrinkles that might arise from clothes being folded. Locker loops were then incorporated into the button-down shirts made by Gant Shirtmakers, Yale's official clothing brand at the time, helping develop an aesthetic that would now be described as preppy.