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Who Invented Pockets? History of the Pocket

Who Invented Pockets? History of the Pocket

According to the definition [1], a pocket is a pouch, a bag, or a shaped fabric piece, attached outside or inside a garment to carry small items. 

There are different types of pockets that you can find on clothing items, but that wasn’t always the case. The first pockets were small pouches that people used to hang from their belts to carry coins and other small valuables.

I will discuss the history of the pocket with you and how it has changed through the ages.

History of the pocket infographic.

Where Did the Word “Pocket” Come From?

Some people suggest that the word pocket is derived from the Anglo-Norman word “pokete [2], which translates to “little bag”.

Back pocket of Levi's jeans.
Photo by K8 on Unsplash

Others say that it’s derived from the Old Northern French word “poquet” [3], which also means a bag or sack. Regardless of the origin, the modern-day definition of the word “pocket” makes sense. I’ll now explain the history of the pocket.

Who Invented Pockets and When?

Pockets hang from the  belts of 15th-century peasants.
Pockets hang from the belts of 15th-century peasants
Tacuinum Sanitatis – The Gode Cookery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We don’t exactly know when the first pocket was made, but they’ve been around for a very long time, longer than you might think.

It’s commonly believed that pockets were first invented in the Middle Ages as a way to keep valuables safe, and they were originally sewn into clothing and were only accessible from the outside. 

However, I’ve found while researching the topic that the history of the pocket dates back to 3,300 BCE.

On September 19, 1991, a perfectly preserved mummy of a man was found on the Similaun Glacier in the Ötztal Alps [4], on the Italian-Austrian border.

It’s known as “the Iceman,” and the most interesting thing about this mummy is that it had a leather pouch strapped to a belt. The pouch also had a fine leather thong to close the opening.

However, fitchets were the first pocket kind that led the way to modern-day pockets. They were invented in the 13th century in Europe [5] in the form of vertical slits cut in super tunics. But these pockets weren’t very well-known.

According to Rebecca Unsworth [6], a historian, pockets became more noticeable from the late 15th to the early 17th century.

What was the Purpose of Inventing Pockets?

The pouch that was found with the Iceman mummy had a cache of different items [7], including a dried tinder fungus, bone awl, flint flake, a drill, and a scraper.

Scientists struck the tinder fungus against the flint, and it produced a shower of sparks. So, it was established that tinder fungus and flint were in the pouch to start a fire. So, ancient people used pockets to carry essential items they needed to survive.

When it comes to the pockets, introduced in the 13th century (and later), men used them to store money and other small valuables. On the other hand, women used the early variations of pockets to carry snuff boxes, smelling salt, and handkerchiefs.

It’s important to note that women at that time were busy mainly cooking and sewing. Therefore, they also used pockets to carry scissors, knives, and nutmeg graters.

How Have Pockets Changed over Time

Both men and women used to wear pouches to carry coins and personal belongings in the 15th century [8]. The design of these pouches was the same for both genders, and they could be concealed underneath clothing like a jerkin or coat, making them hidden from view.

At that time, all pockets were handmade to match a specific waistcoat or petticoat. Then in the 17th century, pockets became more common and began to be sewn into the lining of men’s clothing [9].

18th-century woman's hanging pocket.
18th-century woman’s hanging pocket
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The history of pockets for females evolved slowly, and in the early 18th century, women demanded purses, instead of cloth pockets, to store their stuff. As a result, small mesh bags, called reticules [10], were made.

First, they became popular in French fashion and then reached Britain, where people started calling them “indispensables”. But still, women’s clothing didn’t have any pockets.

The first idea of adding pockets to women’s clothing was given in the Workman’s Guide [11], which was published back in 1838. But it took almost 40 years for designers to add pockets to women’s clothing, and it became commonplace between the 1880s and 1890s [12].

Three pairs of Jeans.
Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels

In the 19th century, both men’s and women’s trousers started to come out with pockets, but humanity was still unaware of the beauty of jeans. Then on May 20, 1873 [13], Levi Strauss & Co. invented jeans (of course, with pockets), especially for men working in the fields.

Later in 1934, the same company started marketing Lady Levi’s jeans [14] to celebrate its 80th anniversary. 

Although these jeans with pockets were made for the working class, they became associated with ‘cool youth’ – thanks to the films like The Wild One [15] and Rebel Without a Cause [16]!

Modern Pockets

Today, pockets are used for a variety of purposes, including holding keys, phones, and other small items. Some pockets are even large enough to hold wallets or sunglasses.

Lady with hands in jeans pockets.
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels

Now, it’s hard to find a men’s and women’s casual attire article without pockets. Modern-day clothing comes with different types of pockets, including the following:

  • Outer Breast Pocket: Located on the left-hand side of a jacket, it usually contains nothing more than a handkerchief or a currency bill or two. 
  • Inner Breast Pocket: Located on the inside of a jacket (usually on the left side), it usually carries more valuable items such as a wallet, passport, or pen. 
  • Watch Pocket: Located on trousers or vests, people use this pocket to carry a pocket watch. Now, it’s also found on jeans as a small rectangular pocket on the right side, also known as a coin pocket. 
  • Cargo Pockets: Large pockets on cargo pants and jeans, they were initially made on battle dress uniforms to carry large battle-related items.
  • Slanted Pockets: They’re set into the garment on an angle and found on jackets, pants, and trousers. People use them to carry smartphones, keys, and wallets. 
  • Arcuate Pocket: Found on the back side of jeans, most people use them for wallets.

Final Words

Through all these years, the contents of pockets have surely changed, but our need for them is still the same. It’s almost inconceivable for most people, especially men, to wear clothes without pockets while leaving a house.

Most men use pockets to store their personal belongings, and women usually employ handbags and purses for the same purpose. I hope now you understand how pockets have changed over time and how they make your life more convenient!