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Why Do We Have No Pockets? The Regency Removed Them

The Regency is to blame for no women's pockets

How frustrating is it having no pockets? Very. Just need to take your keys and a phone out with you that day? Don’t want the inconvenience of having to take a bag with you? Too bad, you’ll still need a bag of some kind because very few women’s clothes have pockets in, and those that do have pockets rarely have ones that are strong enough or big enough for purpose. Ask any women about pockets and you’ll see you’ve touched a nerve.

However, it wasn’t always like this. In the 17th century, women had vast pockets, although they weren’t always built in to their clothes. Often they were stringed, silken drawbags which were tied around their waist and worn under their petticoats. The petticoats and skirts had openings in the side seams so women could easily get to their invisible pockets and get whatever you needed from inside. The quasi-pockets were big enough to carry money, a comb, a small bottle – you name it (within reason).

Woman’s Pockets
England, mid-18th century
Made from silk and linen
Measuring: 15 1/2 x 8 in. (39.37 x 20.32 cm)

The change came at the end of the 18th century and into the Regency period (1811-1820) when petticoats and voluptuous skirts went out of fashion and instead the slim-line, empire-waist Regency gowns came to the fore. These dresses had no room for pockets – it would mess with the lovely silhouette, so pockets had to go. In their place came reticules (Jane Austen even referred to one as a “ridicule”). These were essentially what had been worn on the underside of the dress, only now your hands were tied up with holding onto it, and opportunistic thieves could more easily snatch them.

Meanwhile men went on to have more pockets, not less. A gentleman of the 1940s had, thanks to his suit jacket, waistcoat and trousers, an average of two dozen pockets!

The Regency may have given us some beautiful fashions, but it also, in some ways, ended our hands-free capability. Strange how little quirks of fashion can still influence us today.


Jane Austen Day with Charlotte

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