Pockets: An Intimate History of How We Keep Things Close

Algonquin. Sept. 2023. 320p. ISBN 9781643751542. $35. ARTS
In her fascinating first book, Carlson (dress history and material culture, Rhode Island Sch. of Design) addresses the history, sociology, and politics of pockets. The richly illustrated title discusses those who routinely “get” the fashion component (men) and those who must beg, borrow, or sew their own (women). Carlson posits several theories about this imbalance (patriarchy, fast fashion), but that’s only part of the fun of this book, which has nearly 50 pages of endnotes and an index. In chronological order but with plenty of cross-century commentary from the likes of Mark Twain, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, journalists and observers of the times, and contemporary fashion commentators, the book details the development of pockets in Western attire. Roughly 500 years ago, pockets began to develop from pouches. As they became more prevalent, especially in men’s apparel, pockets and their contents engendered many reactions: fear of concealed weapons easily accessed; fascination with the casually defiant “hands in pockets” stance of Walt Whitman and W.E.B. DuBois; wonder at the treasures in boys’ pockets; envy and frustration among women who craved the ease of pocketed clothing. Carlson’s side trip discussing smart textiles, however, feels tacked on.
VERDICT This erudite, enjoyable book about pockets delivers.
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