When a Pocket Isn’t Just a Pocket

I spent today talking with visitors about pockets, the tie on pockets women wore under their skirts in the 18th into the 19th centuries. This weekend is GCVM’s “Neighbors Free Weekend,” inviting community members from the surrounding towns to visit the museum for free. This meant a good portion of the attendees would be first time visitors or returning after an extended time. To me, this was a unique opportunity to share an interpretive idea I’ve been working on this past year.

How could pockets be an interpretive idea? They are just some fabric and waist ties. Right?

Yes. And, no.

With this idea, I see pockets two fold:

As a platform for story.

And, a connection with history.

A pocket becomes a story with what it contains inside and in some cases, the style, construction, and state of the pocket itself. In its fullness, I picture presenting visitors with a table of pockets. Each pocket representing a woman in the historic village, filled with items that woman might have carried with her. After describing how a pocket was/is worn, visitors could pick a pocket to examine the contents further. With younger visitors, they could surmise who wore the pocket and, with encouragement, development a story about the person. With adult visitors, discussion can develop based on the items in the pocket, how they were used, their history, etc., or about the woman the pocket represents, their life and/or their job.

As story, a pocket and its contents are a conversation starter.

For young visitors, this is an open opportunity to think and talk rather than listen. They are able to connect what they know with what they see and what they wonder about. I found the youngest of children, approximately three years old, connected what they saw with a family member – mom sews or sister likes to read. As the day went on, I found I wanted to make pockets with some easier visual clues for roles young children would be more likely to know. I was delighted to have an elementary school age visitor bring in knowledge of a specific woman from history.

With adult visitors, I started most of the conversations drawing at a kinesthetic connection to the topic, asking about carrying a purse or bag. Nearly every time, this resulted in a non-verbal response indicating shoulder pain or the dislike of carrying one. This opened the door for talking about how women in the 19th century had the benefit of a pocket hidden under their dress, either as a tie on pocketor set-in pocket. This discussion generally flowed from questions of understanding to deeper questions and comments.

Questions of understanding included:

  • Does it just tie on?
  • How do you access it?
  • Is it heavy?
  • What can you fit in there?

Deeper questions and comments developed:

  • When did women stop having large, usable pockets in their clothes?
  • Why did women stop having useable pockets in their clothes?
  • Functional pockets as security or safety.
  • Purses increasing in size and number with the reduced size in pockets. Purses as a marketed item.

My hope is to have the opportunity to develop this interpretive concept further. I also hope to encourage others to think about what they carry in their pockets and how these items can be used as interpretive tools and conversion starters.

And now, tired has won out. Please ask questions or comment as it will help me expand this idea.

Published in: on September 3, 2022 at 6:59 pm  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just an FYI, pockets, basically unchanged, go back to Renaissance Italy as saccoccia. They are well illustated in paintings.

  2. Yes. I only touched on how early they go with a few visitors as I hadn’t developed a way of making that piece of information enrich the connection. I am considering a couple ideas for working that in.


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