Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 27/09/12: In Praise of Pockets

Helmut Newton’s iconic photo of the YSL Le Smoking tuxedo. Would this be half as cool if the model didn’t have her hands planted louchely in her pockets? I think not. From French Vogue, 1975.

I had a singularly unpleasant experience today. It started like any other Autumn day, with the promise of another sinus headache hanging in the air, drifting dangerously close to my nose and eye socket. I got dressed; black and white sweater, black pencil skirt. I sat down at my computer, popped my headphones in and started the day’s work.

So far, so innocuous. I stood up to go and get a glass of water and had the feeling that someone had pulled, sharply, at my earlobes. My iPod had fallen out, dragging at my headphones like an obscure new trend in body jewellery. I picked the offending device up. But I had nowhere to put it. Nowhere. I did not have one pocket on my person.

There’s a phenomenon called ‘White Girl Problems’, in which people moan about trivial, fluffy roadbumps that are a consequence of asset-rich, racially privileged lifestyles. Having nowhere to put your 160G iPod Classic (save, perhaps, in your bra) is one of them. The sublime horror of not having a receptacle for all the stuff you need to walk into the kitchen for a glass of water is not a typical concern of female sweatshop workers in Pakistan or the children who sift through dumps for broken computer circuit boards in Central Africa. It is one of those little problems that reminds us of how lucky we really are.

Women are conditioned to carry their lives about with them. On a typical day I will carry around a battered black leather sac containing the following: wallet, bulging coin purse, umbrella, passport, two books, a notebook, a pen, about twelve million bus, train and Luas tickets, concealer, mascara, lipstick and a small pharmacy of over the counter remedies. And a pocket mirror. And keys. And, for some reason, things that I definitely don’t remember buying, like antacids, nail art pens and an assortment of plastic lighters in every colour of the rainbow.

We didn’t always have the option of pockets. Up to the nineteenth century, women wore external packet/handbag hybrids, which would be attached to the belt and were easily liberated by pickpockets and cutpurses (a ‘cutpurse’ is an excellent insult to fling at someone if you want to bewilder them briefly in order to run away, just so you know).

It wasn’t until Chanel that pockets became cool. It could only be done by the woman who made jersey (then popular as material for men’s underwear), tweed (for stuffy sportwear types) and androgyny (which until the twenties was a sign of serious sexual transgression) into the stuff that couture dreams are made of. Chanel made pocket on jackets and dresses to liberate women from the tyranny of handbags, but not, unfortunately, from the tyranny of being perpetually trendy.

A well-placed pocket is more than just function; it can transform a look. It’s ot just a key holder, it’s also a place to put your hands while you’re being all nonchalant and stuff. Putting your hands in your packets says ‘Look at me, I’m so cool that I don’t need to carry my life with me at all times’. It also says, ‘I’m so cool, I don’t have time to worry about bag-related shoulder or back injuries’. Think about it.

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One thought on “Licentiate Column 27/09/12: In Praise of Pockets

  1. John Dunnicliff says:

    Helmut told Wibecca to cup her hand and hold the cigarette like a man would. The inspiration for the photo comes from Brassai, Helmut’s friend, who photographed women in the streets at night.

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