Pockets: An intimate history of how we keep things connected, by Hannah Carlson
This review of Hannah Carlson’s study of pocket cultures has been severely delayed. Why? Your critic has lost her key again. No, they are not AirTagged.
Before I found the location of these Tinker Bells, I was convinced they had been dumped in the parking lot of an animal shelter two hours upstate, and they had been stuffed into the transport my family was using to adopt two distracting kittens. in the side compartment of the car and anxiously strategizing how to coax overworked employees into searching.
But a friend whose wife kept losing things assured me the keys would be found closer to home. “They’re usually carried in the pocket,” he said with the natural calm of a man clothed in generous clothing. In other words, a man.
“Sexism in the Pocket” is a central tenet of Carlson’s book, a book whose subject matter might sound mundane and like a pastiche, like Christopher Guest’s 1996 masterpiece Waiting for Goff Like the musical about stools in “Man”. Like envelopes or test tubes, pockets are defined by empty space. Without content, they are little more than potential: a cosmetic pocket at best, a commentary at worst, and deeply frustrating at worst. They are waiting for something.
Carlson, a lecturer in the history of clothing at the Rhode Island School of Design, painstakingly traces the process by which boys, but not girls, had pockets in Western culture, and to some extent still do. “She has things to grab, like rocks and Power Rangers,” she said, citing a mother’s plea to clothing manufacturers in a tweet about her child’s wardrobe shortage. “She had to tuck it into her shirt.”
For at least a hundred years, American magazines, novels, and works of art have been filled with affectionate wonder, depicting the odds and ends that lads in Tom Sawyer might stuff down the sides of their pants, from pennies and knives to bullets. beads and bottle caps, to live mice or turtles. But pundits chided that not using their own hands as it would put them too close to their genitals – even though such gestures ultimately suggested “cavalier and illicit coolness”.
James Dean and his jeans! , I thought immediately. They’re not in these pages, which are more tasteful and thoughtful than your standard-issue fashion treatise; nor are the members of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz, who twirl into the big screen after their female companions, the Lullaby League, twirl in decorative tutus. Thumbs down into their functional breeches.
Walt Whitman is here, subverting and offending the upright Victorians with his revolutionary Leaves of Grass frontispiece portrait, hands in pockets. The same goes for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, who swims with his clothes stuffed with biscuits. Unlike female kangaroos, human women (and other historically second-class citizens) have always struggled to secure storage space close to themselves. Emily Dickinson was one of the few people who successfully argued with a tailor to get a compartment for pencils and paper. Carlson wrote that she “had a room of her own and a safe pocket.”
Such modifications were rare in the United States, where the female silhouette was so sacred that even World War II-era Women’s Regiment coats lacked adequate storage space. “Could even a pack of cigarettes threaten the shape of breasts, making them lumpy and misshapen, a metaphor for military personnel’s greatest fear—that after enlisting, women would no longer be considered women?” the author wondered.
However, a small pocket can represent the most resonant freedom. The author describes the tailoring of clothing by fugitive slaves to better evade capture: adding “functional space useful in flight while also critically transforming slavery’s rudimentary uniform, the pocketless coat. For more noble, worldly clothing.”
Pockets have long been equated with privilege, and once you start noticing their presence or glaring absence, you can’t stop. “Liar people don’t have twenty pockets big enough to hold their lies,” Molly Bloom thinks in the final monologue of “Ulysses,” and another friend ( woman) once took the trouble to sew some pockets into a vintage wool jacket, she reminded me. Sigrid Nunez writes in Susan Sontag’s memoirs that the older woman was confused by her purse and refused to carry it.
But the line between wallet and pocket is porous, which creates some classification confusion. Police can also legally search handbags, but not pockets, and handbags can even serve as weapons (think of the famous Swedish photo of the “woman with handbag” ambushing neo-Nazis). I watch with fascination as the fanny pack has militaristically evolved upward into the unisex crossbody bag.
As technology advances, any storage device adjacent to the body seems increasingly obsolete. Carry anything but the absolute necessities (“No one has invented a handkerchief in digital form so far”, Carlson points out) has gone from a sign of prosperity to a common phenomenon. Smartwatches and digital wallets have already taken us down the road to being pocketless. In the future, maybe we just lower our heads at the door instead of carrying keys.
In the meantime, I’ll be eating my hat if Pocket, the popular read-later app, doesn’t aggregate this article.
Pockets: An intimate history of how we keep things connected | Author: Hannah Carlson Illustrated | | 320 pages Algonquin Books | $35