As far back as 3,300 BCE, a tribe of people called Otzi (also known as the “Iceman”) used belts with pouches sewn onto them to hold a selection of utilitarian items such as a scraper, drill, flint flake, bone awl, and dried tinder fungus. This was the beginning of what we know today as a pocket.
People throughout Europe at the time of the 13th century used leather or cloth pouches to hold their valuables under their clothing. Later in the 15th century, the concept of the pocket was becoming more obvious vertical slits were cut into their tunics, this gave access to the purse or keys tied in the girdle of the tunic but helped to prevent pickpockets from stealing their change. By the 16th century, they became a requirement in men’s garments and much more commonly seen, though the pouches were still kept in the new pockets.
The word is taken from the Old French word Pouque meaning ‘bag’. The term ‘pocket’ historically referred to a pouch worn by women around their waists from the 17th – 19th century and can be heard in the rhyme ‘Lucy Locket’.
By the 18th century, tailors were being told by their clients that the pocket purses were hard to fit between clothing and their body. So tailors started to sew pocket bags into the seams of their breeches and their coats. The pocket started to evolve into a functional design for new things such as handkerchiefs, brandy, money, notebooks, snuff boxes and for women smelling salts, handkerchiefs, sewing bits, and bobs.
In the 1900 pockets continued to be used for functional purposes i.e. watch pockets, hip pockets, inside pockets but design and style was beginning to be thought about when and where placing a pocket and whether it was to be a feature or not.
Classic suit pockets appeared in the 20th century with functionality, engineering, and style. A variety of pockets evolved: Patch Pocket, Patch Pocket with stitching, Flap Pocket, Button Flap Patch Pocket with box pleat, Smile Slit Pocket with piping and piping (typical of Western Wear) and a Welt Pocket. Offering a chance for the humble pocket to stand out as a design feature and become an integral part of many different items of clothings.
Today pockets are very often not functional but designed and engineered to bring style and fashion to our clothes. Since the 1930’s pockets haven’t changed much we still use pockets in our jeans, trousers, jackets, shirts, skirts, dresses, coats and even jumpers. With the contents of our pockets having changed over the centuries that hasn’t meant we have abandoned them, now they have to accommodate electrical goods, make-up, tissues, snacks as well as loose change. The one thing pockets should not be used for is mobile phones to close for comfort!