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POCKETS
Exploring the realms of history, science, nature and technology

AND PURSES

Ancient times

People have been carrying their personal and essential items
in pouches or purses since ancient times. Today, pockets are
found in most men’s and women’s clothes, but historically
pockets sewn into clothing are a relatively new innovation,
first appearing in 13th century Europe.

Forty thousand years ago,
hunter-gatherers used bundles
and pouches made of hide or
fibers to carry food and tools.

This may have deterred some
thieves, but others became experts at distracting victims while
reaching into their pockets.

Embroidered pockets, c. 1760
These items were worn underneath
the petticoats.

Types of handbags

This modern faux fur bag and muff
has pockets to warm your hands.

Today, shoulder bags and cross-body bags with long straps are popular, functional choices for everyday use. The backpack purse is popular with college
students. Fashion may dictate style, but comfort defines the perfect handbag.

Hobo

Baguette

Duffle

Backpack
purse

Wristlet

Pickpocketing still thrives in
crowded tourist spots.

Battle of the sexes

17th-century men’s clothing was
created with utility in mind, and
pockets were sewn into coats,
waistcoats and trousers. Men
could carry their personal items
such as money, keys, weapons,
tobacco, writing pencils and little
notebooks in their pockets. Men’s
pockets allowed for more freedom of movement than those of
women.
17th-century women’s clothing
was designed for appearance,
and tied-on pockets remained
under the skirts. Large, highly
decorated pocket bags were
hung from the waist under layers of petticoats, panniers and
bustles. The pockets were
reached through slits or openings
in the gown and undergarments.
Women of this time carried sewing kits, food, keys, spectacles,
watches, scent bottles, combs,
snuffboxes, notebooks, Bibles,
diaries, money and jewels. Ladies’ pockets tended to be large,
heavy and difficult to access.
© 2021 Triefeldt Studios, Inc.
Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication

American English tends to use
the terms purse and handbag
interchangeably, but things did
not start out that way.

A purse or handbag might also
be referred to as a pocketbook,
bag, clutch, pouch, receptacle,
reticule or wallet.

Men and women of ancient
Rome wore drawstring purses
hung from their belts, a convenience that continued for centuries across many cultures.

Over time as towns and cities
grew, it became ever more dangerous to carry money and belongings in a little pouch dangling
from a belt. Because thieves
were known to cut the strings of
purses, people began to wear
their purses under their clothing.
In the 17th century, men began to
have their purses sewn into their
clothing — and the pocket was
invented.

In a word

Originally, a purse was a small
bag that held coins, and a handbag referred to men’s handluggage. Later, in the 19th century, as women’s bags got bigger,
they were also called handbags.

The 5,000-year-old mummy of
Ötzi the Iceman was discovered
with a pouch sewn to his belt. It
was filled with many useful items.

The pickpocket

Iroquois beaded bag
19th century

Messenger

Saddlebag

Quilted clutch

Shopper

Satchel

Doctor bag

Tote

Barrel bag

Bucket

Minaudiere

Types of
pockets

After pockets
evolved from
small bags or
pouches, they
Patch
became part of
pocket
clothing sewn
into and onto
garments. Modern pockets include the kangaroo pocket, often
sewn onto the
Buttonedfront of a sweatflap
shirt or hoodie.
pocket

Patch pocket
with top stitching

Side seam
pocket

J patch
pocket

Flap
pocket

Smile slit
pocket

Welt
pocket

A pocket is a purse or receptacle
sewn into clothing to hold small
items. Pockets can also be found
on or in luggage, handbags and
backpacks.

Changing times

In the 1790s, ladies’ Western
fashion made a dramatic change
from layers upon layers of skirts
to a much thinner silhouette
(like a Greek goddess). Heavy
silk and brocade fabrics were
replaced with thinner cotton and
linen fabrics.
During the French Revolution,
pockets (inside or out) were
banned from women’s clothing,
and women began to carry tiny,
impractical, decorated purses
called reticules.
By the mid-1850s, the fashion
changed back to bigger skirts
and crinolines. Some dressmakers began to sew discreet pockets into dresses, but generally
men continued to have the exclusive on pockets.
In the early 1900s, pockets became a symbol of independence
and equality for women, and
how-to manuals for sewing pockets into clothes gained popularity.
The 1910 “suffragette suit” had
six to eight pockets!
During WWI, women’s clothes
became more practical, with large
pockets as the norm. During this
time, Coco Chanel was designing
simple, practical ladies’ clothing,
often inspired by menswear.
In the 1940s, the handbag industry tried to convince women that
pockets were unattractive and
that the pocketbook was a better
fashion statement.
Today, women enjoy both clothing with pockets and a variety
of handbags, some of which are
large enough to carry groceries.

SOURCES: World Book Encyclopedia, World Book Inc.; Victoria and Albert Museum; https://www.vox.com; https://www.folkwear.com

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