For the Love of Pockets

I am reposting favorite helpful posts each Monday throughout March, April, and May. This is the newest of the reposts.

If you have been following even for a short while, you know I love pockets. I love making pockets. I love having pockets.

For years, I carried a basket or a purse. It would get filled with a myriad of this and that, period and modern.

All this stuf I thought I needed to have on me.

Extra water, a camera, a little money…. You know what? It all just added up and added up. Frankly, it was heavy and a PITA.

It also wasn’t accurate.

Then, one glorious day, I learned about pockets. Dresses had pockets! We aren’t talking the wimpy pockets in women’s jeans that barely hold a few dollars and a small set of keys. We are talking huge, mother of all pockets!

Skeptical?

Don’t think they could be that big?

Take a look at my dress from a few years ago. Okay, 15 years ago. (Ignore the hair falling down and the gloves for rusty nails. This was a heavy work day, building fences and moving corn.) The pocket in that dress is holding my lunch including a couple bottles of water and bananas. Can you tell?

I wear two pockets when dressed in Victorian era clothing. Each of my 1830s through 1860s dresses has a pocket on one side, preferably the right side. In this pocket goes the things I need throughout the day of the event, the period items. On the other side is a separate pocket that sits either below my skirt or below my skirt and upper petticoat. This pocket holds the modern items I hope not to need during an event but should have on me in case of emergency or when I leave.

The dress pocket with period items holds:

  • Building key
  • A small wallet/pocket with ID and cash. This is roughly 3.5”x2.5”.
  • Handkerchief
  • Possibly a workpocket
  • Possibly a purse (a small item that carries money)
  • Possibly a fan
  • Possibly a glass

My seperate tie-in pocket holds:

  • Epipen
  • Medications I need immediate access to
  • Car key (mine pop apart)
  • Phone if I need it

This video shows a sampling of what I carry in my pockets:

Want your own pocket? I have a few available in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AnnaWordenBauersmith?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=1086425702&section_id=10182162

Pocket Basics

Plain cotton pocket set into the seam of a cotton plaid skirt. The pocket is nearly rectangular shape with a fold down the long side, and a seam on the bottom and short side.

Pockets as tie-on, seperate pockets appear long before the nineteenth century, centuries before. In the eighteen century, they were often worn in pairs, one one each side of the body. They were accessed through the two slits formed when putting on petticoats. When skirt supports were worn, pockets hung beneath the supports. (That was an incredibly short generalization about centuries of this accessories history. I highly recommend reading into these eras further.)

Wearing tie-on pockets continued into the nineteenth century with a short interlude during the Regency era with the wearing of higher waisted, often diaphanous dresses.

By the mid-nineteenth century, pockets became part of the skirt construction. They were most often set into the seam of a skirt. Originals show pockets were long, wide enough for the hand to fit comfortably, and both rounded or squared on the bottom. They are often a plain or cotton print with the seam to the outside of the pocket. Sometimes a support stay attaches to the pocket part way down and to the waistband. A straight edge of the pocket lines up with the skirt seam, and the skirt edge folds over the edge of the pocket. I prefer to do two rows of stitches around the edge of my pocket for a strong pocket.

The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility and Manners, by Emily Thornwell, 1859.

While seperate pockets grew less common by the 1840s and 50s as dress pockets became more common, they were still in use and recommended for situations like travel.

Separate pocket beneath the petticoat for travelling – Eliza Leslie’s The Behaviour Book , 1853 & 1859.  Republished as The Ladies Guide to True Politeness and Perfect Manners, 1864.

When I first wrote this post, there were a pair of pockets embroidered by sisters Mary Ann and Hannah Rose Brigham of New Hampshire in an Etsy shop One is dated 1850. Both show wear indicating their use.

The Behaviour Book: A Manual for Ladies, Eliza Leslie. 1855.

What did they carry in their pockets?

The Behaviour Book: A Manual for Ladies, Eliza Leslie. 1855.

I plan to make a post/video showing how a pocket looks under the skirt and how it is accessed.


Additional Resources

List of pockets from the 19th century: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KISeV0ZVhD2SOsF_lJ71DI9RrVLu2C5lLPsk8T5Fonw/edit?usp=drivesdk

Section on pockets from the Workwoman’s Guide, 1837:

The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives by Barbara Buurman. Available on Amazon and your local bookstore.

Articles about Pockets:

  • Pockets of History (VADS)
  • Women’s Tie-on Pockets (V&A)
  • Picking the DAR Museum’s Pockets
  • What’s in a Pocket? (RICHS)

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Published in: on May 2, 2022 at 6:05 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What is your position on patch pockets? On the outside or shirts or skirts.

  2. I haven’t studied patch pockets enough to have a position on their use from a historical perspective.
    From a practical standpoint, they don’t hold nearly as much, nor as securely.


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