I don’t like handbags. There – I’ve said it. Losing the use of a hand in order to heave a bunch of junk around has never really appealed. And a shoulder/clutch/tote bag is just asking to be snatched. The other week, I emptied out the contents of my current bag to find the following: a packet of Lockets from last year's cold season; yoghurt-covered raisins; biscuit crumbs; three tons of receipts; make-up that I thought I’d lost, so bought replacements and – OH! That's where all the pens went. It appears that I basically carry around a rubbish bin with a wallet, keys and a phone in it.
If I could be rid of a handbag altogether, I would. There is, however, no other option for women, because most of our clothing isn’t made with pockets and those that are aren’t made with useful pockets. For example, the hip pocket on my jeans isn’t deep enough for the full length of my fingers let alone a wallet; none of my coats or jackets has a breast pocket; and, when it comes to skirts, you can pretty much forget it. Also, a few items of my clothing come with false pockets – what is up with that?
Unlike my husband, whose entire wardrobe comes complete with multiple useful pockets, if I wish to carry anything at all, I am forced to use a handbag.
I believe the lack of pocket parity forces women to be viewed as less efficient than men. Think of the difference: at the start of a meeting, a man reaches inside his jacket to remove a pen from his breast pocket in order to take notes; at the start of a meeting, a woman digs through the junk in her bag searching for a pen, which she finally pulls out, removing an old receipt that was wedged under the clip and brushing off the crumbs that have stuck to her hand.
I posit that pockets are a modern feminist issue.
From the 15th to the mid-16th centuries, both men and women carried small bags called “pockets”, from the Old North French “poque” meaning “bag”. They were usually tied around the waist or hung from a belt. Along with money, they carried things such as keys, snuffboxes, mirrors, sewing equipment and “pocket books” (diaries). For women especially, a pocket may have been the only private place they had. As the shape of women’s dresses changed and became sleeker and more closely fitted in the early 1900s, women started carrying a bag in their hands, rather than under their dresses. At the same time, Savile Row devised a three-piece suit for men that had around 15 integral pockets in which they could carry their keys, a watch, money, a handkerchief, matches, a small book. Men’s pockets allowed them to be organised: they knew exactly where everything was and could find it immediately. Women, having to stash what they needed into a small reticule, were required to dig and search to find anything.
My how times have changed. Or not.
Recently, I decided to make a stand. Tired of lugging around my shoulder bag, I wanted to see if I could live without carrying any type of bag at all. I wanted to be organised, ordered and faff-free. I wanted to know where my day-to-day necessities were without having to rummage through the dross. In order to do this, I needed to find an article of clothing with large enough pockets in which to carry at the very least my keys, wallet and phone. After a bit of research, I found a US-based company called ScottEVest that prides itself on pockets. Their motto – “Our Pockets. Your Freedom” – this sounded perfect. I opted for the Q.U.E.S.T. women’s vest simply because of its impressive 42 pockets. As a bit of a nerd, I took this as a good omen. This vest was to be the answer to life, the universe and everything. This vest was to be my handbag liberation and, needless to say, I was excited. As soon as it arrived, I emptied out my bag and filled everything neatly into my pockets: wallet, money, keys, phone. It fitted perfectly, with room to spare and, what’s more, when zipped up, you couldn’t tell that I was carrying my every personal possession around my torso, as the pockets are positioned with women’s bodies in mind. I was decidedly streamlined. Admittedly, the style is a bit “outdoorsy”, which works with jeans – less so with a dress, but it’s a start.
During my experiment, I flew to New York and, for the first time ever, I didn’t take a handbag. The vest was a revelation. My passport and travel documents had their own pocket, so no fumbling at security. My cards and money were easy to access but secure, which gave me a satisfying sense of safety. And, remarkably, I was actually able to carry an entire change of clothes in the pocket situated at the small of my back, which meant I could squeeze all of my other things into a carry-on bag. No luggage carousel for me.
After three weeks of purely pockets, I am a total convert. A proper evangelist. I have packed away my larger handbags and, if I don’t use them for a few months, I shall give them away. I’ve kept my small gorgeous little evening bags out because I still need somewhere to stash my lippy and powder when I’m out at a party. I have, however, just ordered a ScottEVest trench coat to wear with a dress. Eighteen pockets – two of which are big enough to carry an iPad. Oh, yes.