Who Invented the Pocket (Invention Timeline Explained)

Pockets in men’s and women’s clothing come and go, particularly in women’s garments. For men, pockets are handy. Since ancient times, pockets were functional, worn separately, tied on their waists, or sewn directly to clothing. They held various small items that modern people now carry in their clothes, wallets, and bags. In women’s fashion, pockets can be functional, decorative, or simple accessories, which depend on fashion trends. But truth be told, women do like their clothes to have pockets. Learn more exciting things about pockets right here.

Who invented the pocket?

It is difficult to determine where the pocket originated. However, the naturally-preserved mummy named Ötzi, a man who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC, had a belt sewn with a pouch that contained several items, such as dried tinder fungus, bone awl, flint flake, drill, and scraper.

The pocket’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ötzi
    The first hanging pocket

    It isn’t easy to ascertain who made the first pocket. However, the first man seen to wear a pocket was Ötzi, the Iceman. He was a naturally mummified individual who lived in 3,300 BC. He had a belt with a pouch sewn to it. The pocket contained various things that were useful for his survival. 

  • Europeans 
    Sewn and tied pockets

    In the late 1600s and beyond, internal pockets directly sewn on garments started to appear in menswear. However, women’s voluminous clothes did not have pockets. Instead, they wore pouches attached to a belt or rope, which they wore around their waists under their petticoats and outer garments. 

  • Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss
    Sturdy pockets that would not rip

    Jacob Davis bought denim fabric from Levi Strauss & Co. and developed a pair of sturdy denim pants for a customer, adding copper rivets on places that often rip, such as pockets. He wanted to patent the design and asked Levi Strauss to be his partner. Thus, the two men changed the face of fashion. 

  • Coco Chanel
    Pockets in women’s pants

    In the 1920s, Coco Chanel began mixing men’s and women’s wear. As she loves outdoor activities, she introduces pants for women. Although women wore pants during World War I, Chanel gave the garment design a twist by getting ideas from fishermen and French sailors, giving them patch pockets and thick belts for accent. 

  • British and Americans
    Cargo pants and pockets

    In 1938, the British Battledress had a map pocket above the left knee and a pocket to hold field dressing on the right hip. Major William P. Yarborough of the U.S. Army modified the design so paratroopers could have more secure storage, adding bellow pockets on each pants leg for carrying more stuff or cargo.

When was the pocket invented?

Taking off from Ötzi’s pouch, pockets started appearing around 1650 to the end of the 19th century. However, people did not sew the pockets on their clothes. Instead, they were separate bags, or pouches people usually hung from a belt or tied around the waist. Men and women carried currency and essential items in their pockets.

A brief history of the pocket

In modern clothing, pockets are standard and accepted features, although pockets are not always present in women’s clothes. However, each person probably has a few garments that contain one or more pockets, be it in a cardigan, T-shirt, suit, skirt, dress, or jeans. Their application on clothes is both decorative and functional. 

As early as the 13th century, vertical slits (fitchets) in European clothing appeared. These were slits made in the outer tunic to allow access to keys or pouches tied to the tunic’s girdle. But the pockets did not become more noticeable until the late 15th century, and became more popular in the 16th century.

Inevitably, European fashion evolved, and pockets started to be hung like small bags from a belt. Since pickpockets and cutpurses increased, people began hiding their pockets under their jerkins or coat. With slits on their outer garment, they can access their pockets safely.

Men’s clothing began to have sewn pockets by the 17th century. However, women still tied their pockets to their waists underneath their large skirts. But as the trends in women’s clothes shifted to tiny waists and slim skirts, pockets became ornate although smaller. They were also flatter to prevent the pockets from displaying a prominent bulge.

When WWI started, women took on the work left by the men, necessitating a wardrobe change. So they started wearing trousers with plenty of pockets, a takeoff from the menswear-inspired and boyish cuts popularized by Coco Chanel in the 1920s.

But as lifestyle changed and women had more freedom, men’s and women’s clothing underwent several changes. There were periods when there was a minimal distinction between men’s and women’s clothes. Jeans and shirts became ubiquitous. But there was also a period when men’s clothing was distinctly manly, while women’s clothes were highly feminine.

In recent years, fashion designers have paid tribute to the pocket, which many believe is essential, especially to women. They had women’s jackets with four cargo pockets, and shorts with oversized hanging pockets. They also showed hooded dresses with four huge pockets that resemble small bags and an ensemble with the model wearing a shirt with two large pockets hanging down from the sides and a belt with several dangling pouches.

So now, you know that pockets come and go but will remain an essential part of people’s clothing.

The pocket timeline

  1. 13th century
    Small pouches

    Men and women carried their items in small cloth or leather pouches tied to their waists with rope. But since the pockets were outside their clothing, they soon became easy targets for thieves. 

  2. 16th century
    Concealed pouches

    People in this century still used pouches. But this time, their pouches were attached to belts and girdles. They concealed them beneath their clothing to prevent thieves from snatching their pouches. In addition, tailors and dressmakers added vertical slits on the outer garments where they could slip their hands through to reach into their hanging pockets. 

  3. 17th century 
    Sewn pockets for men

    By the 17th century, sewn pockets on men’s clothing started to appear. However, the women still used pouches. They fastened their pouches to a belt under their petticoats or skirts. But the women’s pouches this time were ornate, often decorated with fancy embroidery, which usually matched their outer skirts. 

  4. 18th century
    Pocket bags on men’s clothes

    With the changing fashion, tailors sew pocket bags into the seams of men’s breeches, coats, and vests. By the 1900s, more pockets were added to men’s clothes, such as outside and inside breast pockets, side and hip pants pockets, ticket pockets, watch pockets, etc. 

  5. 1920s
    Menswear look for women

    From the 1920s through the 1930s, women started copying the look of men’s clothing, including their trousers. Designers followed the trend and designed trousers with pockets for women. However, the pockets on women’s trousers were more a fashion accessory rather than functional, as they were too shallow to hold anything useful.

Where was the pocket invented?

Basing on photographs and actual collections of pouches, they started in Europe where tie-in pockets were popular for men and women from the mid-17th century to the end of the 19th century. Interestingly, some people wore up to three pockets tied around their waists. 

The importance of pockets

  • A place to hold many things

    For men, having pockets in their pants and suits is essential. Their pockets can hold small items such as keys, loose change, handkerchiefs, etc. 

  • Keeps your hands free

    Pockets keep your hands free. For example, you can put your wallet and other small items you need to carry in your pocket instead of holding them. Thus, your hands are free to do other things, such as holding on to railings, carrying bags, etc. 

  • Casual yet elegant

    A shirt with a pocket makes it look casual, sporty, and approved to wear in the workplace. Chest pockets can hold pens, sunglasses, business cards, and other items. Even if you do not use the chest pocket, it gives the shirt a dynamic look, and you can dress elegantly without looking too formal. 

  • Pacifier-keeper

    Babies’ clothes have small pockets, too. The first reason designers add pockets is to make them resemble adult garments. Pockets also give the clothes aesthetic appeal. But pockets on babies’ clothes are functional. For example, parents can fasten the pacifier clip to the pocket so they will not lose it.

  • Style and functionality

    Adding pockets adds style to the garment. For women who are not into designer clothing, pockets are functional because they have a place to put items they need to access immediately without rummaging through their bags. For example, they can put their lipstick or lip gloss, tissues, change, and cell phone in their pocket. 

The pocket by the numbers

  • 1.46In 1879 the selling price of a pair of Levi’s jeans was only $1. 46. Today, the average price of a pair of jeans is about $50.
  • 3Most suit jackets have three pockets. The breast pocket is place on the left side of the chest. Two pockets are sewn at the waist.
  • 4The original denim jeans produced by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873 only had four pocket. Three pockets were in front. One pocket was sewn at the right side at the back, underneath the brand’s leather patch. 
  • 6Cargo pants have a minimum of six pockets. Cargo pants are the style typically used in military uniforms, as they have large pockets to carry essential things that should be easy to access. 
  • 14A pair of tactical pants used by EMTs, law enforcement personnel, and other first responders may have as many at 14 pockets. Some of the pocket are hidden within other pockets.

Five facts about pockets

  • Old term for pocket

    The term pocket came from the Old Northern French word, “poque”, which translates to bag. Up to the 10th century, the meaning of pocket was ”a small bag or pouch attached to or inserted in people’s clothing.”

  • The pocket’s age

    The pocket is more than 500 years old. They first appeared on men’s trousers and waistcoats in the 15th or 16th century. 

  • Three types only

    Pockets may vary in size and shape according to the dictates of fashion. However, there are only three types of pockets – side seam, flap, and patch. Variations are plentiful according to styles and types of clothing so that you can encounter different terms for pockets added to pants, jackets, and dresses. 

  • Chest pockets

    Chest pockets on shirts/T-shirts became popular in the 1950s and 1960s due to the decline of the waistcoat. As a result, the chest pocket became a convenient location to store several small items, including cigarettes, eyeglasses, and pens.

  • Tiny watch pocket

    The small pocket on Levi’s jeans is called a watch pocket (not a coin pocket). Its original purpose was to have a safe place to store men’s pocket watches. It has been part of the design since 1879.

FAQs about pockets

  • What item must a lollipop lady/lollipop man always carry in their pockets? Lollipop lady/lollipop man assists children across the road when walking to school in the UK. They carry a signboard with a small blackboard. In addition, they should always have a piece of chalk in their pocket to record the number of any car that caused any traffic violation.  
  • What did Florence Nightingale carry in her pocket for four years? Florence Nightingale used to have an owl in her pocket. She picked up and looked after the baby owl she rescued during her trip to the Parthenon. It became her traveling companion before she went to Crimea. 
  • What do you call the showy pocket Scotsmen wear over their kilts? Scotsmen call the bag “sporran,” and while some call it a bag or pouch, technically, it is a Highlander’s pocket because it is always a part of their kilt. Scotsmen used the sporran to carry oats and other small things, and it evolved into a pocket to store soldiers’ rations and ammunition. 
  • Why are pockets on new clothes sewn shut? Manufacturers sew pockets closed on suits and pants to retain the tailored look and the fabric’s shape even if people try on the clothes. It keeps the clothes in shape while in storage or when placed on hangers. It also prevents people from inserting used tissues, candy wrappers, and other small items into the pockets. 
  • What are welt pockets? Welt pockets are found on tailored jackets, vests or the reverse of jeans. They are flat pockets finished with a welt to reinforce their border. They give the garment a functional (or decorative) pocket with a sleek look, with only a strip of cloth showing to hide the pocket’s opening. 

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