Pockets = Freedom

by Erin on March 23, 2007

V&A pockets

(Above illustration from The Workwoman's Guide [and it's a downloadable PDF, thank you Google Book Search!])

Are you unsurprised, as I was, to learn that the V&A website has a whole section on pockets? It's a good one, too (also unsurprising) and traces the initial demise of the pocket and rise of the handbag to the radical change in women's fashion of the 1790s, when dresses became too narrow to admit of the wearing of separate pockets tied around the waist under the dress. Because of this, women began to carry little bags, called reticules, which accommodated much less than the capacious separate pockets.

Last night I walked about fifty blocks (intentionally, and with a glad heart). The weather was beautiful — it was a warm soft wet night (okay, I admit it, I like walking in a light rain), and I wasn't carrying a bag.

I had ditched my purse-cum-laptop-bag as it was just too big to dangle off me all night while I stood around clutching my club soda at a party (and I didn't bring a smaller bag with me on this trip). Besides, between the pocket in my skirt and the pockets of my coat, I could carry the essentials (ID, money, lipstick, treo, ipod).

Without a bag, I barely noticed those fifty blocks. It was amazing how freeing it was, to not have a bag to deal with, to shift, to move around to the front of your body and then to the back, to switch from arm to arm. Your arms swing unencumbered; you walk differently, faster. You can shove both hands in your pockets; you can put your hands on your hips while waiting impatiently for a light to change. I also noticed that some people gave me funny looks; whether it was "There's a woman without a bag!" or "Why the hell is she wearing a circle skirt in a grass-green camouflage print?" I couldn't tell.

On my way uptown, as an experiment, I counted women without bags. I saw one. I think she was eight years old, but she could have been nine. (Since this was about 11:45 p.m., I don't think this was a representative sample, and it's not like I stood around the busier intersections making sure I checked everyone, but hey.)

Now, I love bags, I obsess about bags (mostly about whether they have the right size and number of pockets …) and I carry a bag most of the time. But when you have enough pockets, or the right kind of pockets, you can escape the bag and just enjoy the freedom to stride along unencumbered. You should try it …

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

bonnie-ann black March 23, 2007 at 9:13 am

erin: i couldn’t agree more! i’ve always been a schlepper of big bags because i carry a lot of my life around — my writing notebook, my sketchpad, my camera, the book i’m reading, the backup book (in case i finish the first book and i have to stand on line somewhere without a book), wallet, business cards, keys, etc., etc., etc. but on the weekends, i wear this great long man’s coat with about a hundred pockets and i just stick money, keys, a small sketch book and camera and go about my business. few things more freeing — or better for straightening out your back and shouldeers.


Susan March 23, 2007 at 10:18 am

I will often go out without a bag, so if you see a woman in her mid-40’s strolling down North Michigan Avenue without a purse, say “hi”, because it’s probably me. :)I have a tiny ID zippered wallet with a key chain. It’s large enough to hold my work ID card, my cash and my debit card – it’s the only wallet I use (even if I am carrying a purse) On the key ring, I have my house key, and the fob to enter security in my condo. I don’t usually walk around with my makeup (I keep my makeup purse in my desk, and another one in my vanity at home).In my opinion, there is nothing worse than seeing a woman regularly travelling to work with 3 bags – her laptop bag (or briefcase), her purse, and some kind of shopping bag. When I come to work, I carry my laptop bag, and nothing else.


India March 23, 2007 at 10:32 am

Sigh. This is very appealing to me since I got my handbag stolen last week.For years I refused to carry a bag, to my mom’s spluttering irritation. I kept telling her there was no point, as I didn’t carry any of the crap she did–lipstick, tissues, datebook, etc. I just carried an Altoid tin with some cash and cards stuffed into it, and my keys. In fact, when I was in high school, I wouldn’t even carry my keys: our mailbox latch was broken but you wouldn’t know that unless you tried to open it, so I would often throw my keys in there when I went out. My family was appalled when they found out I was doing this, because of course it was very stupid (this was in Manhattan), but no ill ever came of it.Then, at some dark moment during my twenties, I turned into a girl. Never been the same since.I try not to be the three-bag woman, or even to carry two bags very often, but it’s hard with all the electronic gear, and notebook, and umbrella, and lipsticks, and hair clips, and keys, and . . .


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 10:35 am

How timely for me. I carry a lot like Bonnie-Ann and have been trying to think of how to lighten my load. I have to carry a dorky backpack on my commute because I carry so much, and it does not make me feel very cute. Of course, complicating my situation is that I have to carry water and medicine on me… but maybe I could get smaller bottles and ditch my back-up book. Thanks, Erin and all the interesting commentors! I’m not a sewer, but reading this blog for a few months has inspired me to sign up for beginning classes at the Stitch Lounge here in SF. https://www.stitchlounge.com/index.htmGoldilocks


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 10:39 am

I love not carrying a bag. And I love pockets. I try to only carry a few things, ID, keys, chapstick and a small sketchbook and a good pen. Since reading your blog, I have been putting more pockets in my dresses. I love it!


La BellaDonna March 23, 2007 at 11:13 am

(Raises hand) That would be me. I have the pocketbook, the gym bag, and the Bag O’Shopping. I don’t care for it either, but since I go to the gym, I need the gym bag (can’t afford the locker fees, or to have my clothes shrunk); I need the pocketbook (money, keys, inhalers, meds, etc.), and I also need the Bag O’ Shopping, unless you will be kind enough to come and do it for me. And sometimes it’s two really big Bags O’ Shopping, since I don’t have a car. I’m lucky it’s not a Bag O’ Cat as well, with me on the way to the vet with my son meowing all the way. It doesn’t mean I don’t want pockets, which are very handy for kleenex and card keys; just I have no way at the moment of divesting myself of them.FWIW, “reticule*” is generally conceded to be a Victorian nicety; at the time of use, the bags were generally referred to as “ridicules.”*despite the fact that it’s a word many Regency romance writers use


marcia in austin March 23, 2007 at 11:34 am

A year or so ago I order a couple pairs of pants from a catalog. They fit beautifully and looked for all the world like normal jeans and chinos, but all the pockets were– by design– truncated. Apparently this is to accommodate those women who think the pocket bag creates an unattractive lump. I was annoyed beyond words. I use my pockets as pockets, not as fashion details.


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Erin (and fellow sewers and pocket lovers), are you familiar with the Saf-T-Pockets line of patterns? Jackets, vests, coats, pants, skirts deliberately designed with as many pockets as possible, some hidden. The designs are aimed at travlers and tour participants (tramp all day through museums or whatever without a bag!!), however, I think every serious fabric shopper needs a Shopper’s Vest with 10 pockets – and both hands free to fondle fabric.http://www.saf-t-pockets.com/patterns.aspCMC


Kiru Banzai March 23, 2007 at 12:24 pm

There’s an article of clothing I’ve seen twice, on two different girls, but I’ve never been able to find it to buy (or been disciplined enough to make my own): a pocketed corduroy belt. It was broad, and fastened with velcro (or something) over a skirt or dress, and widened at the sides to accomodate wallets or cards. I continue to covet this item.


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 12:27 pm

I carry a smallish handbag, which can still be cumbersome, but without it I feel like a body part is missing. However, I recall fondly the immense feeling of freedom and lightness when first able to venture out into the world without a diaper bag (though it has now been MANY years)


Theresa March 23, 2007 at 12:32 pm

My Bra is my pocket – keys, ID, Cash, cell phone. On occasion lipstick. It’s in there. My kids hate it but hey — my hands are free. :>)


Lisette March 23, 2007 at 12:50 pm

This is why I created my Rocket Pockets! Erin, anybody really I’d love for you to give me your opinion!www.swaggerdesign.etsy.com


Laura V March 23, 2007 at 1:19 pm

This is why, despite not generally being a blue jeans kind of girl, I have a couple pairs of jeans that I wear for goin-out-havin-fun.Key in one pocket, ID and money or credit card in the other. Done!My everyday bag is very well designed; it feels almost like not carrying a bag at all, but I don’t want to take it clubbing with me!


Karen March 23, 2007 at 3:08 pm

I carry a small purse every day. I also carry a backpack for school, and a tote bag for shopping and wedding planning days. My purse has essentials – wallet, phone, candy, chapstick, USB drive, pens, scratch paper – `and of course – my list of fabric yardage requirements. I suppose YOU can get by without the last one. :)


stefani March 23, 2007 at 4:17 pm

how lovely! What a care-free image you describe… you’ve inspired me. Now I’m going to try to have a bagless outing one of these days to feel the freedom!


Booty Vintage March 23, 2007 at 6:11 pm

I had to laugh when I read the bit about the concerned glances at your purse-less-ness. A couple weeks ago I was working out of our LA office, staying at a nice hotel in Burbank. Not wanting to take a cab for only 5 blocks, I walked, purseless, to a restaurant. Quelle shock! Purse-less and car-less in LA!! Clearly I was a deviant, or that’s the vibe I got from passing drivers.anna


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 6:47 pm

living in the tropics our school uniform skirt is a little on the short side, aka 20 years ago fathers wouldnt let daughters out of houses wearing them. the hassle of continual shaving in winter aside they have a rather annoying habit. Our schoolbags, backpacks i guess you might call them, grab hold of our skirts while we walk and inch them up bit by bit which leads to continual yanking down. the solution? take a boy with you let him carry it for you, terrific! youre freed up just like erin said wonderful advantages plus said boy feels manly and is trained up in noble ways. hooroo steph


Ms. Laaw-yuhr March 23, 2007 at 9:09 pm

Oh so true so true! I love how you write about seemingly mundane things (e.g. walking without a bag) that reminds me how delicious some everyday activites can be.


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 10:47 pm

This totally does not belong here as a comment, but maybe you will plug this organization…http://www.sewmuchcomfort.org/A woman started this organization in order to make adaptive clothing for people with special medical needs.They need sewers (How can you make that NOT look like plumbing transport for waste water, and look like people who want to sew??) to adapt clothing for people such as veterans who are recovering from war wounds, like burns or amputations. Go to the website…she can explain it better than me. Thank you. Love your blog, and the sometimes beautiful, sometimes quirky dresses.


Anonymous March 23, 2007 at 11:39 pm

Ah, the security theater skirt.Which reminds me of this from the fug girls. I thought it was kinda cute.http://gofugyourself.typepad.com/go_fug_yourself/2007/03/the_dukes_of_fu.html–andrea


well-rounded dresser March 24, 2007 at 2:07 am

I have an REI handbag and it is perfect for the usual things. To keep the purse from getting too heavy, I have a tote bag for less usual things. To keep the tote bag clean, I have a separate lunch bag. There’s the portfolio thingy with a shoulder strap, and a gym bag (with an enclosed shoe bag) for exercise clothes. Finally , there are the canvas grocery bags I use instead of paper ones. The one who dies with the most bags wins.


poppy March 24, 2007 at 2:20 am

I’ve had so many bags stolen (last count was three, no, four), you’d think I’d learn. Random bit of info: the wearing of (or even having possession of) camouflage-style clothing is illegal in Zimbabwe. This includes camouflage prints on clothing, hats, bags, etc. Should you be found in possession, you could receive a fine, or six months in jail, or both. The authority has the right to detain you for up to 48 hours without officially charging you. This really makes you appreciate our many freedoms, including our freedom of choice and expression.


Lucelu March 24, 2007 at 7:32 am

Pockets… I had nothing green for work on St.Patrick’s Day so sewed up very quickly a scrub top. No jacket to match (I must have a jacket at work for the pockets). I found a lovely little 3/4 sleeve white duster at (of all places) “V”almart–on an errand for sewing machine oil. Trouble is… no pockets. So those went on last –big green cotton patch pockets. And they served me well.Now going bagless…. Outside of work, (where I carry my id badge, debit card and cpr card in my little ID plastic clippy and everything else in my pockets) I have no real occasion to travel sans bag. I used to– punk rock shows, meetyeatda-pub-athappyhour, and taking long walks. But since marriage and child (15 years ago) I have had bags and by extension, vehicles that have doubled as bags. I’m freaking surprised I don’t travel around in a Winnebago. BTW I am totally with you on carrying a small library (book and magazine), knitting, needle or patchwork project, phone, sketchbook, mints, gum, fabric coupons, pens, spare toothbrush, kleenex, motrin, oilblotters, flashlight, little notebook, and wallet. Now, I don’t have an Ipod…. and I should start including my camera even though my phone has one because I haven’t yet mastered the art of the good phone picture. hmmmm.Sometimes I am a rebel and don’t take my cell phone. I never carry my laptop around.


Lori Jean March 24, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Gotta have pockets. Even as a teenager sewing formal (or long, at least) gowns for the Masonic Job’s Daughters and Rainbow Girls, I *always* added in pockets. Even my prom dress had pockets.


Latter-Day Flapper March 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm

I can’t believe the number of perfectly good skirts I’ve ruined because I neglected to put pockets in them. Then I spend all my time dropping small items because I try to put them into the pockets that don’t exist. Never again. Everything from now on must have pockets.My purse is a homemade cloth square. I’m about to make a bigger one with internal pockets for small items (cell phone, etc.) that keep getting lost. I don’t take it “out” though. If I’m going out at night I take as little as possible (money, ID, phone, keys) in a pocket and safety-pin the pocket shut if I have to. Thus, I have no bag to lose or to be grabbed. I’ve even got a method of putting a “secret” pouch pocket in the skirt/waistband seam of my skirts and dresses so I know things won’t fall out.


Minya, Warrior Seamstress March 26, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Sigh… that was me once. Then my roommate insisted I start carrying a cellphone. Only one garment (a pair of black cargo pants) has pockets sufficient to carry the phone, ID, bank card, keys, chapstick, nail clippers, and bus pass. If I’m not wearing the cargos, I carry a purse. I feel old and frumpy! I miss being bagless.


wisechick March 30, 2007 at 4:36 pm

I love stashing stuff in my pockets and avoid carrying a purse whenever possible. Anything extra, I hand off to my sweetie to carry in *his* pockets. (What are boyfriends for anyway?) Speaking of pockets… a few years ago, I spotted a pockets only pattern online, from one of those pattern places like sewingpatterns.com. Maybe it was from CJpatterns or Brown Paper or something like that. Anyway all the pattern featured was pockets! Say like 8-10 different ones. Very cool. I’ve been searching online for hours for it and can’t find it anywhere and it’s driving me crazy. Any of you pockets afficionados know what I’m talking about?


phentermine plateau October 26, 2007 at 1:08 pm

DgkCVC Please write anything else!


board chat meridia October 26, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Good job!


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