In this episode the Visible Women team try to get to the bottom of one of the world’s most trying problems: the paucity of pockets in women’s clothes compared to men’s. Caroline speaks to a pocket historian, learns to make her own pocket, and takes on some troubling mysteries
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In episode 5 of Visible Women, we asked why women’s clothes are so much less likely than men’s to have pockets.
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Hannah Varrall: So I’m going to stand in the middle. With my phone like this.
Caroline Criado Perez: And pretend to be texting? You’re clearly not filming.
Hannah: Yeah. But any astute security guard would realise that I have the microphone pointed upwards.
Caroline: Yeah. Well, I think we’re going to be fine.
Caroline Criado Perez, narrating: I’m standing outside Marks and Spencer on Oxford Street, wondering if I’m about to be banned from the shop for life. I’m with two people you may be familiar with by now: producer Hannah and my data sidekick, Patricia. And we’re here on a very important mission. We’re here to investigate pyjamas.
Caroline: So underwear, nightwear…
Hannah: Here they are.
Caroline: Oh my goodness.
Caroline, narrating: The pyjamas in question feature an erstwhile hero of our times, Percy Pig. He started out life as a pink sweet sold in the M&S food halls, but his popularity has ballooned. M&S now sells Percy Pig tote bags, cuddly toys, bed sets, hampers, pants, curtains, dog beds, kitchenware, and Percy Pig pyjamas.
Hannah: So this is a grey t-shirt with a pig on the breast. And then shorts, which are grey with pigs all over them.
Caroline: Nice, soft material.
Hannah: And then how are the pockets, Caroline?
Caroline: I mean, these are the pockets of my dreams. I mean, my hand fits all the way in and a bit of my forearm…
Caroline, narrating: It was the same in every single set of M&S men’s pyjamas in the store.
Caroline: Men’s ones, I have not been able to find a single set of pyjamas that don’t have pockets. And not just a nod at pockets, like proper, massive pockets. Oh, and this one also has a third back pocket.
Patricia Clarke: Those are nice.
Caroline, narrating: I mean, that’s just greedy. Sadly though, my pocket dreams were rudely shattered when we found the women’s section.
Caroline: Okay, here are some bottoms. No pockets. No pockets.
Patricia: Not a pocket in sight!
Caroline: Not a pocket in sight.
Not a pocket in sight. And let’s just remind ourselves every single one of the pyjamas for men that we looked at had them. We have not yet found a pocket in the women’s ones. So we’ve looked at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, no pockets…
Caroline, narrating: I’m Caroline Criado Perez. And this is Visible Women, my weekly podcast from Tortoise investigating how we finally fix a world design for men. This week, I’m investigating a problem that I like to call the great gender pocket gap. In case you are blissfully unaware, this is the phenomenon where men’s clothes feature pockets all over the place. Deep, well placed, useful pockets. And women’s clothes? Well, they don’t. This may sound unimportant, but well, I beg to differ. I think pocket equality matters. And in this episode I’m going to make you care about it, too.
Like the gender data gap, the great gender pocket gap is something I’ve been pretty obsessed with for a while now. So much so, in fact, that I once accidentally commissioned polling company YouGov to conduct a survey on the pressing issue of whether or not British women do in fact want pockets. If you’re wondering how someone could accidentally commission a survey, in my case it was by tweeting about pockets. I told you I was obsessed. Anyway, the results showed that women do want pockets. Who would ever have guessed? But why, you might ask, am I focusing on M&S? Well, like most good 21st century stories, it all started with a tweet.
Voice actor: Hey, @MarksandSpencer, why are your men’s and women’s Percy Pig pyjama bottoms almost identical, except that the men’s has pockets and the women’s doesn’t? This seems like an @CCriadoPerez #WeWantPockets moment. Face palm emoji.
Caroline, narrating: This was of course a red rag to this pocket justice bull. So, I went to see what M&S had to say in response. Here’s what they tweeted.
Voice actor: Hi Harriet. Our women’s pyjamas usually have a breast pocket included as part of their design. We want to keep both our men’s and women’s PJs at the same price, but wouldn’t be able to do this if we added in trouser pockets to the women’s styles, due to the extra costs. Our team will certainly give this careful thought for the future, and we’ve let them know this is something you’d like to see going forward.
Caroline, narrating: Now, here was an excuse I hadn’t heard before. Why would it cost more to put pockets on women’s trousers than in men’s trousers? And who told M&S women wanted a single tiny breast pocket that fits nothing useful at all, rather than two functional trouser pockets? I mean, if you are going to give anyone a breast pocket, surely you’d give it to men. You know, because they don’t generally have these sensitive dangly bits that would make putting anything in a pocket on your chest kind of uncomfortable.
I decided to tweet M&S to ask what was up, but they didn’t reply. I then wrote about this mystery in my newsletter in an edition called “The Curious Case of Percy Pig and the Missing Pocket.” This prompted a bunch of my readers to ask M&S the same question. Does it really cost more money to put pockets in men’s trousers than in women’s trousers? But still, M&S remained silent. The mystery continued to niggle away at me. And so, when we started working on Visible Women, I knew it was something I wanted to try to get to the bottom of.
Caroline, narrating: In the studio with Producer Hannah one day, I tried to go directly to the source.
Phone Recording: Welcome to M&S.
Caroline, narrating: [sigh].
Phone Recording: Just so you know, we may record our calls to help with training.
Caroline: Oh, hi. My name’s Caroline. I’m a journalist calling from Tortoise Media. I’ve got a question about the design of some of your pyjamas. I wondered if there’s someone I could speak to?
Caroline, narrating: The lovely press officer at M&S asked us to send her an email. So, we carefully worked up some questions.
Hannah: How can they claim that it’s more expensive to put pockets in womens clothes?
Caroline: Why would it be more expensive? Yeah. So the question that we have is I think we have a few questions. Have you done any research to suggest that women would like a small breast pocket instead of functional pockets in pyjama bottoms?
Caroline, narrating: And then we waited for our inquiry to work its way through the M&S press office.
Now look, I’m aware that probably no one’s going to die from a lack of pockets. Probably. But it’s a matter of fairness. Women pay as much for their clothes as men do. In fact, they often pay more. So why should we have to put up with less functionality? It also says a lot about how women are viewed by society: like all that matters to her is how her clothes look, not whether they’re in any way practical. And especially since the advent of phones, which we carry everywhere with us, even around the house, not having pockets is just really incredibly annoying. Although let me assure you, this is not just a modern phenomenon. I recently discovered that there is a long and illustrious history of women complaining about the lack of pockets in their clothes. So, let me take you through a brief pocket history lesson.
The American suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who seems to have been almost as obsessed with pockets as I am, wrote a series of articles on the great gender pocket gap starting in 1895 with an essay entitled “The Pocket Problem.” In 1914, the American novelist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman of The Yellow Wallpaper fame wrote a short story about a woman who suddenly turns into her husband and discovers the joy of pockets.
Voice actor: Of course she had known they were there, had counted them, made fun of them, even envied them. But she never had dreamed of how it felt to have pockets.
Caroline, narrating: Charlotte, I’m really feeling you right now. Over in the UK at around the same time, fashion industry mag The Draper’s Record carried a series of articles about the need to insert ‘really useful pockets’ into women’s dress, calling it ‘a crass absurdity to pretend that this want is solved by a bag, which has in turn to be carried in the hand.’ You tell them, Draper’s Record.
I have to hold up my hands here to tell you that this is not all my own carefully curated pocket research. I discovered these pocket-themed gripes from history in my new absolute favourite book, which is called, appropriately enough, “The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives.” This wonder of a publication has a photo of a giant pocket on the cover. Naturally, I bought it immediately. And obviously, I had to speak to the authors.
Caroline: What do you think when you come across clothes for women that don’t have pockets in them? What do you think?
Ariane Fennetaux: I don’t buy them.
Caroline: [Laughs] Good.
Caroline, narrating: This woman after my own heart is Ariane Fennetaux, one of the authors of my beloved pocket Bible. She’s so into pockets that she and her co-author Barbara Burman, who Ariane refers to as ‘the queen of pockets,’ created a database of 400 pockets from history.
Ariane: Extant pockets that survive in British collections, in private collections, and in museum collections. Some big like the V&A, but also some very local small museums.
Caroline: And how did you first become interested in pockets?
Ariane: Well I was doing my PhD on privacy and material culture and during a museum visit at the V&A, the curator there showed me this really nice indoors jacket that came with matching pockets. And she said, “Oh yeah, you know, there’s these pockets.” And I was like, “What? This is what 18th century pockets looked like?” I had no idea, obviously, like most people that, you know, pockets have not always been the way we know pockets to be. That they were separate accessories, that they could be decorated, that they were often handmade by women for their own use. We call them tie-on pockets to kind of visualise what they looked like and how they function. That is, as separate accessories that you tie around your waist under your skirt.
Caroline, narrating: And these pockets were massive.
Ariane: We have a pair of gigantic pockets in the, sort of, database we assembled. The biggest pocket is about 60 centimetres deep. So, you can imagine that is very different to the type of pockets we are used to in our contemporary clothes, which, you know, at best will fit, if we have pockets at all, obviously, will fit maybe half of your phone, half of your hand.
Caroline, narrating: Meanwhile, women’s tie-on pockets in the 18th century were so big, they needed their own organisation system.
Ariane: So, there’s a practice of what we called ‘nesting’ possessions within other possessions within the pockets. Often, for instance, they had two pockets, and this was also a way of organising contents in between the two pockets.
Caroline, narrating: As for what kind of possessions women tended to carry in their pockets, Ariane and her co-author traced women’s pockets through old Bailey court cases and adverts appealing for the return of lost or stolen pockets. One ad for a pair of pockets stolen by a highway robber in 1754 revealed their contents to contain…
Voice actor: Among other things, a small round tortoiseshell snuff box, a London almanac, an ivory carved toothpick case, a silver sliding pencil, a white cornelian seal, a tortoise shell comb in a case, a silver thimble and bodkin, a bunch of keys, a red leather pocket book, a green knit purse, a crown piece of William and Mary, five shillings, and two glass smelling bottles.
Caroline, narrating: Two smelling bottles? If I could fit even one smelling bottle in my pocket, let me tell you, I’d be making liberal use of it to recover from reading this enormous list of items this lady in a coach carried in her pockets. And to be clear, it wasn’t just rich ladies who had these wondrous pockets. Ariane says that loyalty to their pockets was one of the few things that connected women across class boundaries.
Ariane: Obviously women had different types of pockets, rich women and poorer women would’ve had pockets made of different fabrics. And you see this in the accounts of elite women. When they have pockets made it’s a fine Holland, which was a really nice linen, or of silk, whereas more plebeian women, they also had pockets but made of sturdy materials. Its functionality was very much the same across the social spectrum.
Caroline, narrating: Ariane tells me that she’s actually joined this pocket sisterhood herself.
Ariane: Well, I’ve made my own pockets.
Caroline: Oh, really?
Ariane: The tie-on pockets. And they’re great when you travel, I’ve found. Going through airport security, for instance, although it does raise an eyebrow from the security guard like, “What are these,” when you put them in the x-ray tray.
Caroline: And you made it yourself?
Ariane: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Ariane: I would be in favour of bringing them back, but I think the tie-on pockets were extremely practical, extremely versatile, and they accommodated a lot of the multitasking that was the reality of women’s lives. Maybe that still is the reality of women’s lives, except we don’t really have the pockets to match.
Caroline, narrating: So how did we get from pocket nirvana to the pocket desert we find ourselves in today? Well, it’s tricky to establish one single cause, but Ariane has noticed a rather interesting coincidence in timing.
Ariane: It is from the moment, in a way, that these big pockets disappear, that women start complaining.
Caroline, narrating: This was around the early 20th century.
Ariane: And that this is the precise moment where they do gain rights. They do get the right to vote. They do get the right to property in their own names. So is there a link?
Caroline, narrating: It’s certainly one to consider. We do know that men were, shall we say, very curious about what on earth was going on in women’s massive pockets.
Ariane: Pockets are slightly worrying because they represent a space that is under the control of women at a time when women are not supposed to have access to possession or property. Obviously they, you know, women did have some level of possession. But legally they were not regarded as legal entities if they were married until late in the 19th century. So for most other periods, women are not supposed to have possessions in their own names. But what is in their pockets is in effect considered as theirs. So, it opens a crack, in a way, in the patriarchal system of controlling women and controlling what women did and what women owned. A pocket was very much a place of one’s own. And so because of that, there is the suspicion, or there is a curiosity, obviously, about what women had in their pockets. So, you see this in the descriptions that are often made of pockets as ‘they’re bottomless, they are enormous, they are gigantic, who knows what women keep in their pockets.’ And so, you have this kind of terra incognita of the women’s pockets.
Caroline, narrating: Can’t trust a woman with pockets. That’s what I always say. Ariane explains that pockets also became associated with the Suffrage movement. And well, the men really didn’t like that.
Ariane: So for instance, in Punch Magazine, often Suffragettes are equated with women with pockets, and therefore it’s not just the pockets themselves. It’s more the bodily attitude that is supposed to go with pockets. So, they’re more masculine in their postures because they will put their hands in their pockets.
Caroline: So was that seen negatively?
Ariane: Like thrusting your hands in your pockets?
Ariane: Yes. Yes. Because it’s masculine. So, it’s not the sort of appropriate or expected demure attitude of women.
Caroline, narrating: All this hand thrusting and demanding of rights. So unladylike. I have to add here, I do feel like the very fact that men have historically been so against women having pockets in their clothes is a pretty good argument for why women should have as many big and beautiful pockets in every single item of clothing as is humanly possible. But that’s just me. It feels like we might be getting somewhere with the mystery of why women lost their giant pockets. But I mean, we’ve had the vote for over a hundred years now. Surely, the men have got over it and can let us have our pockets back? Well, apparently not if M&S have anything to say about it.
Hannah: Caroline I have some exciting news, which is that M&S have got back to me…
Caroline, narrating: The bad news was they didn’t answer any of our questions, meaning that Hannah, this episode’s intrepid pocket correspondent, was going to have to go back in for another round with the M&S press team.
Hannah: Patricia and I were discussing whether otherwise… I found a couple of people on LinkedIn who work in design for M&S. And so we were thinking maybe we contact them and just say, you know, can you be an insider for us? And, tell us about the design…
Caroline: So, wait. Do we want these designers to go rogue and like whistle blow on pockets or…?
Hannah: Well, I mean, if they want to.
Caroline, narrating: While we continued to wait for M&S to solve the mystery of the missing Percy pockets, I decided to try a more hands on solution to my pocket problems.
Priscillia Okpan: Anything they can put pockets in, they will put pockets in. And if I don’t put a pocket, you always see them all comment going, “You know, this would be perfect with a pocket.”
Caroline, narrating: Hannah and I have travelled to Kingston in Southwest London to meet Priscillia Okpan.
Priscillia: I am a Nigerian fashion designer. I essentially just teach people how to make clothes online because when I was learning, I didn’t have access to that kind of information.
Caroline, narrating: Priscillia first took up sewing back in 2013, just after she finished university.
Priscillia: I discovered I really enjoyed creating clothes, but I had no idea how they worked. So, I remember just talking to my dad. I was like, “Oh, I want to go learn how to sew.” And he was like, “What? Why? Like, you have a degree in microbiology. What are you doing?” It took a lot of convincing, but…
Caroline, narrating: Following a three month course in Nigeria, Priscillia took herself off to London where she did a fashion diploma, followed by a fashion design BA. And now, she runs her own fashion label called Kim Dave, as well as a popular YouTube channel of the same name.
Priscillia Okpan, on YouTube video: This video is going to be for this mini skirt that has two front slits.
Caroline, narrating: Today, she has kindly given up her morning to talk to us about pockets.
Caroline: Do you know about the original pockets that women used to wear in like, the 16, 1700s?
Priscillia: I feel like I saw a video, a YouTube video. And I think they used to tie them as separate undergarments.
Priscillia: Underneath the big dresses.
Caroline: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So have you ever…
Priscillia: Made those?
Caroline: Made one of those?
Priscillia: No, I haven’t. But it’d be fun though.
Priscillia: It’d be fun because back home, the women who trade locally in the market, they still use pockets like that. So…
Priscillia: They tie something called the wrapper. So when they go to the market, they would tie these bags on their waist that have a zip in the front. And they would put their money, their phones in there, and their keys in there because if her be cutting meat and cutting fish at the market. They don’t want to be having a handbag.
Priscillia: So the waist thing would be tied around their waist and then the wrapper would be around their chest or their waist or maybe like a skirt would go over it. So, when they want to bring out change for you, they literally would lift up the garment, put your hands in, and then they…
Caroline: That’s so interesting.
Priscillia: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Women still use that wrapper. Because I’m from Nigeria, and I’m from the south Delta State. I still see that, like, growing up.
Priscillia: It didn’t just occur to me that oh, it’s because they don’t have pockets…
Caroline: Yeah. Women need pockets.
Caroline, narrating: I’m so pleased to hear these pockets haven’t died out everywhere.
Caroline: What’s really funny is we were talking to this historian of pockets, and she was telling us how women always had these tie-on pockets. And then sort of around the 1800s, I think it was, like fashion people started saying, “Oh, these pockets are so old fashioned. And, you know, this is the kind of thing your grandmother would wear. Here. Have this tiny, pointless bag that you can carry instead.” And women were just like, “No, fuck that. I can carry on wearing my pockets.” I just love the idea that women, we want our pockets.
Priscillia: And they’re very useful, too.
Caroline: Yeah, women from the early 1900s, like complaining about clothes, not having pockets, which could basically be me.
Caroline, narrating: Or even Priscillia because, as I was delighted to discover, she also had some strong opinions on pockets.
Priscillia: Sometimes it’s like fake pockets. And then you try to put your hand in, and it gets stuck.
Caroline: See, because I have a strict ‘no pockets, no purchase’ policy. And I’ve discovered a pair of jeans…
Caroline, narrating: My ‘no pockets, no purchase’ policy is pretty inflexible. It’s a political stance. My one-woman boycott of women’s clothes that don’t have pockets. But inevitably, this does rather restrict my fashion options. So, I’ve come to Priscillia with a question.
Caroline: If I were to slightly relax my policy, how easy is it to add pockets…
Priscillia: To an existing…
Caroline: To an existing piece of clothing.
Priscillia: So it’s not difficult. Just a little bit tricky. It would depend on the style, though.
Caroline, narrating: I have a feeling Priscillia and I have different ideas about what difficult means. Still, I’m going to give it a go.
Priscillia: That’s right. Even if it’s not perfect.
Priscillia: It will be worth it. I promise.
Caroline: Okay. Okay. I’m nervous. But I’m also excited.
Caroline, narrating: I showed Priscillia the dress I had brought along with me. It was bright green with black leopard print.
Caroline: And I broke my no pockets, no purchase.
Priscillia: Wait, did you actually buy the dress?
Caroline: I bought the dress.
Caroline, narrating: And I was planning on wearing it that same night for my birthday party.
Caroline: This is the dress.
Priscillia: Ooh! That is nice. That is really nice.
Caroline: Yeah. But can you believe this dress doesn’t have pockets? You know, like there’s no reason for it not, it’s not like a form fitting dress, right? So much room for pockets.
Priscillia: They save cost, as well, when they don’t make pockets. Because it’s less pattern, it’s less sewing time…
Priscillia: And less material.
Caroline: But then they lose the sale.
Caroline, narrating: But enough chit chat. It was time to get to work.
Sewing machine sound
Priscillia: Okay. Let’s go slow… [laughter].
Caroline, narrating: While I was tackling my very first pocket, Priscillia asked me a question that had clearly been pressing on her mind.
Priscillia: Why do you like pockets so much?
Caroline: It’s more that not having pockets makes me really angry.
Priscillia: What annoys you about it? You feel like some of your freedom is taken away?
Caroline: Yeah, I do. You know, I want to… a) I like putting my hands in my pockets. It’s like a nice place to put them. But also I don’t like having to carry a bag everywhere.
Caroline: Just much freer being able to put things in your pockets.
Caroline: And there’s just no reason to not have them. So I just feel like…and like, you know, men get pockets. They have proper pockets. So like, it’s just, it’s not fair. Like it’s a question of fairness.
Priscillia: Got you. Got you. I think I was just…I’m just amazed by how it made you angry.
Priscillia: Give Caroline her pockets please.
Caroline: Yeah, exactly. For everyone’s good.
Caroline: But like, you know, if I go for a run, especially, like I refuse to buy leggings without pockets.
Priscillia: Yeah. Those are…
Caroline: So there are some brands that you can buy and they have enough pockets. And then there are some brands, and they give you one pocket. It’s very annoying.
Caroline, narrating: Naturally, we were including two functional hip pockets in my party dress.
Priscillia: All right. So that side is all done. We have it all in. We’re going to do the other side now.
Caroline: It doesn’t look too bad.
Priscillia: Mm-hmm. Looks really good.
Caroline, narrating: And while we got going on pocket number two, I decided to make the most of having a pocket expert right in front of me.
Caroline: So there was this ridiculous exchange on Twitter.
Priscillia: Oh God.
Caroline, narrating: I wanted to ask Priscillia what she thought about my Percy Pig pocket problems.
Caroline: And the men’s ones had pockets in the trousers.
Priscillia: Wait. And did they put…
Caroline: The women’s didn’t.
Caroline: Yeah. And they said, well, ‘the women’s have this nice little tiny pocket on the boob. And we don’t put pockets in the women’s trousers because we want to keep them the same price as the men’s trousers. And if we put pockets in, it would cost more.’ And I was just like…
Priscillia: Wait, what?
Caroline: Why does it cost more…
Caroline: To put pockets in the women’s than the men’s?
Priscillia: It’s the same sewing process. Wait, did the women’s one have an extra colour?
Caroline: It’s the same, like, it’s just the same trousers. So, actually that’s a good question. Is there any reason that it would cost more to put pockets in women’s clothing?
Priscillia: No, it’s the same steps. If you’re saying it’s the same design.
Priscillia: It’s the same steps.
Caroline, narrating: The mystery continued. In the meantime, we’d finished adding the pockets to my party dress.
Caroline: Aah. Oh my God. They are enormous.
Priscillia: I’ve never seen someone so excited to have a pocket.
Caroline: But they’re so great. And this is such a great dress now, and I’ll wear it all the time.
Caroline: And if I didn’t have pockets, I’d never wear it.
Priscillia: How do you feel?
Caroline: I feel very happy to have pockets in my dress.
Priscillia: Was it worth it?
Caroline: I feel comfortable cause I’ve got my hands in my pockets.
Caroline: That’s how I feel.
Priscillia: That’s good.
Caroline: Yeah. It was definitely, definitely worth it.
Caroline, narrating: I’m not going to lie. Putting my hands in pockets I had sewn myself, with those selfsame hands, was pretty cool. I will be forever grateful to Priscillia for opening up a whole world of pocket possibilities for me. I may even add some pockets to my clothes on my own. But I still feel like this is a lot of effort and time men don’t have to go through just to have basic functionality in their clothes. It was time to think bigger.
For quite a few years now I’ve been tweeting out what I think is a pretty amazing idea: a pocket aggregator website. A one-stop pocket shop on the web, which shows you clothes from all the major retailers but only the ones with pockets. Think of the time-saving opportunities. Think of the money that could be made by retailers who are featured on this wondrous site. It feels like a total no brainer for women and for clothing manufacturers. So, why doesn’t it exist? I mean, I have been tweeting this idea out at regular intervals for quite some time now. Well, it turns out it does exist. In fact, there is more than one website designed by women who have had the same idea as me, but who obviously have more technical knowhow. But they don’t quite hit the spot for me. None of them include every retailer or even most of the big brands. I think the problem is that it’s actually really complicated to do this well unless you have a staff of hundreds or some kind of billionaire pocket investor.
Caroline: Like what we need is a really rich woman. A really rich female philanthropist. And Jeff Bezos’ ex…
Hannah: Oh, she has come into a small amount of cash hasn’t she?
Caroline: She has. And I’m sure she has experienced the pocket travesty. What’s her name? Mackenzie something? Mackenzie Scott. Patricia, I think you should get in touch with Mackenzie Scott, formerly Bezos, and see if she wants to fund… That’s step one. Would you like to fund a pocket algorithm aggregator?
Patricia: Wait, have I missed a step in this? Has she ever spoken about pockets or is it just because she’s a woman and she’s rich?
Caroline: She’s a woman.
Caroline: She’s a woman and she’s rich. That’s my thinking.
Caroline, narrating: We did genuinely consider contacting Mackenzie to the extent of finding an email address and starting to draft an email. But then we were like, maybe a pocket aggregator is something that should be funded by the industry rather than a philanthropist who could be solving world hunger. Instead, Hannah and Patricia decided to speak to Michael Kowalski, resident web expert at Tortoise Media, about the logistics of making this pocket website of our dreams.
Patricia: But we’d like, sort of, to talk to you about a reality check about how possible that is.
Michael Kowalski: Well, in some ways you think it wouldn’t be too hard. That you’d just scrape over web pages and look for is it the word pocket in the description or something like that. But I did a little bit of a very cursory hunting around on websites. And it looks as though most of them don’t consider that it’s important enough to even mention. You know, I found a number of, you know, dresses or pantsuits or whatever that clearly had pockets in the picture, but they hadn’t bothered to mention that in the description.
Caroline, narrating: This widespread lack of pocket transparency makes the job much harder, explained Michael. Because the only other solution is training a machine learning algorithm to identify pockets from pictures, and that would be pretty expensive. So Hannah, Patricia, and I got on a call and brainstormed some other options.
Caroline: So two things. First of all, to go to a huge retailer and challenge them to list, to have pocket transparency. Like, we want pocket transparency. Have a pocket filter on your website. I don’t know why all websites don’t do that. I will flag that Boden does that.
Hannah: Does it?
Caroline: It does, and that is the sole reason that I bought my summer dresses from Boden last year was because they have a “with pockets” filter. So you don’t waste your time.
Hannah: And are they good pockets? They’re not any kind of flimsy little…
Caroline: Massive pockets. I mean, look, they’re not as great as the pocket I made myself with Priscillia, but they’re pretty great pockets. And then you’ll find shops like ASOS, which do not have a pocket filter, and often don’t say whether they have pockets in their clothes or not.
Caroline, narrating: Look, obviously we should all be trying to avoid fast fashion and finding our clothes in charity shops. But the fact remains that ASOS is one of the leading online clothes retailers in the UK.
Hannah: Even if we don’t create this mega website, though, couldn’t we ask them for pocket transparency anyway?
Caroline: Yes. And if we email demanding a statement, they’re more likely to reply.
Hannah: Asking for pocket transparency.
Caroline: So to list whether or not they have a pocket, where the pocket is, whether the pocket fits a standard smartphone, and to include a “has pockets” filter on their website. Well, this is why you got into journalism, right Hannah? To affect change.
Caroline: On the things that matter.
Caroline, narrating: Hannah had her mission. We were going to try and get ASOS to commit to radical pocket transparency. Things were looking up, but then Patricia dropped this bombshell.
Patricia: I can’t find the pocket filter on the Boden website.
Caroline: What? They’ve taken it off.
Patricia: Size, style, pattern, midi, mini, jersey.
Caroline: Women’s dresses.
Hannah: Yeah, I can’t see it.
Caroline: Oh my God. They’ve got rid of it. That’s mad.
Caroline, narrating: Boden. How could you betray me like this? Okay. So now I had two mysteries on my hands. The mystery of the missing Percy Pig pocket, and the mystery of the missing Boden pocket filter. The cases were piling up, and no one was getting back to us.
Voice note notification sound
Hannah: Hello. I’ve just realised M&S said they’d get back to me yesterday about the Percy Pig pyjamas, and they haven’t. So I’ve just sent…
Caroline, narrating: We had better luck with Boden, who did reply pretty quickly.
Caroline: Leo from Boden has just replied to me. Would you like to hear what he says about…
Hannah: Go on? How has he defended this? Yeah.
Caroline: Yeah. They’re pocket backtracking. So he says, “Hi Caroline. Thanks for getting in touch. I am keeping well.” Then, he put a happy face. “Boden’s commitment to pockets remains stronger than ever. So much so, that it’s now safe to assume our dresses have pockets, and there is no need for the filter. However, if you prefer it is still possible to retrieve garments with pockets using the search function on our website. Best wishes, Leo.” Well, now I feel a bit stupid. However, I was really sure that I found a dress that didn’t have pockets. So I just want to go and double check to make sure I’m not making this up.
Caroline, narrating: Sadly for both me and Boden, I wasn’t.
Voice note notification sound
Patricia: I’ve just brought my mum on a trip to Boden, and we’re having a look at a couple of the dresses. And I’ve spotted some pocketless designs. Mum, look. This doesn’t have any pockets, does it?
Patricia’s mum: No. I think it’s got to do with the way they design…
Caroline, narrating: I actually found quite a number of dresses without pockets on the Boden website. Even more bizarrely, I found dresses that had pockets, but where the pockets weren’t listed in the item description. So, I went back to the lovely Leo to ask what was up. He said he had passed my query on to the designers. But despite my chasing a couple of times, as of the time of recording, we had not received a response.
I’m sad to report that we also struck out at M&S and ASOS. And we never did get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing Percy Pig pockets.
Hannah: So yes, M&S finally got back to me with an answer of sorts. But it was kind of…it was just a statement, which didn’t answer any of my pocket questions. And they basically said, “Oh, our sleepwear offers style and comfort at a trusted value.” And they sent me some links to their pyjamas. And they said, “The design, fit, and detail, including pockets, vary across our men’s and women’s ranges,” which we knew already, “based on contemporary style preferences.” But there’s no information on what those contemporary style preferences are based on.
Caroline: That’s such a nonsense phrase.
Caroline: What…whose preferences?
Hannah: Not mine.
Hannah: I want pockets.
Caroline: Nor mine.
Caroline, narrating: And ASOS refused to commit to pocket transparency.
Hannah: So, Patricia and I sent what I thought was a very good email to ASOS sort of listing out all of the things that we wanted them to do.
Patricia: Yeah. They got back in a couple days.
Patricia: But they didn’t say anything of substance or answer any of our questions.
Caroline: Well, how unusual.
Hannah: They had a long statement on gender inequality, which was nice. But it didn’t answer the pocket questions.
Caroline: Did they, like, address the question about pockets at all?
Patricia: They said they’d forward our feedback on to the relevant teams. And I’d like to know which teams.
Caroline: But essentially, they’re not going to commit to radical pocket transparency.
Hannah: If they are, they haven’t told us.
Patricia: And none of their gender stuff is about pockets, which is fair enough, but it didn’t feel like they really read our email.
Caroline: I just find this so bizarre. Like, why the resistance? It’s such an easy win.
Caroline, narrating: And so, this is becoming a bit of a theme on this podcast. We want your help. If you head to the Visible Women page on the Tortoise website, you can click through to a pre-written email that will go straight to ASOS asking them to implement radical pocket transparency on their website. We’ll put a link in the show notes. Visible Women listeners, let’s make equal pockets happen.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Visible Women from Tortoise. If you’re a Tortoise Plus listener on Apple podcasts or a Tortoise member, listen out for a bonus episode coming on Friday. As for the rest of you, if you’re hungry for more go to tortoisemedia.com/caroline and use my code CAROLINE30. This episode was written and produced by me, Caroline Criado Perez, alongside Hannah Varrall and Patricia Clarke. The executive producer is Basia Cummings. It features original music by Tom Kinsella and sound design from Studio Klong.