It’s a subject that stirs up plenty of passion: Why do men’s clothes have so many pockets and women’s so few? In her captivating book Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close (Hachette, 2023), Dr. Hannah Carlson, a lecturer in dress history at the Rhode Island School of Design, shows us how we tuck gender politics, security, sexuality, and privilege inside our pockets.
In mediaeval Europe, the purse was an almost universal dress feature carried by men and women alike. But when tailors stitched the first pockets into men’s trousers 500 years ago, it ignited controversy and introduced a range of social issues that we continue to wrestle with today, from concealed pistols to gender inequality, as noted in hashtags like #GiveMePocketsOrGiveMeDeath.
This abundantly illustrated four-colour book explores much more than who has pockets and why. How is it that putting your hands in your pocket can be seen as a sign of laziness, arrogance, confidence, or perversion? Walt Whitman’s author photograph, hand in pocket, for Leaves of Grass, seemed like an affront to middle class respectability. When W.E.B. DuBois posed for a portrait, his pocketed hands signalled defiant coolness.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose forthcoming book focuses on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.