The Woman with Five Pockets: 1891

A Woman with Five Pockets.

A young man came up town to his home and dinner the other afternoon in a Broadway car, and just about Tenth street, where the big shops begin, the overloaded team halted to take in one more passenger. She was  tall, slim, pretty girl, dressed in a brown gown, and the young man noticed her at once—first, because her face was exceedingly charming, and second, because she carried nothing in her hands. Not even the tiniest purse or the flattest card case, he swears.

On careful cross examination he could not tell how her gown was made or what shape of hat she wore. But this much he does know, that after she got on she actually did push her way well up in the car, in exact obedience to the conductor’s humble suggestion, and she also lifted up one of the empty hands, gloved in a heavy, three-buttoned, stitched red dog-skin, and held so firmly to the strap that she did not lose her footing when the car turned a curve.

Yet more remarkable, when the long suffering conductor came collecting, she calmly thrust her free hands into the folds of her frock and into an invisible pocket, set just about where such convenient receptacles are put in a man’s trousers. This was on the front of the right hand hip. Apparently not feeling the right change there, she brought down the other hand, and while the young man gaped with amazement, she ran it into another deep invisible pocket on the left hip. He swears he recognized the rattle of keys and a knife, and when the hand reappeared it was full of small change. The conductor satisfied, she resumed her strap and looked calmly over the young man’s head till another woman got in who recognized the young lady, and much chattering followed till the second woman wanted to know the time.

Then he almost lost his balance watching the first young woman unbutton her loose box coat to reveal a white shirt front and high buttoned waistcoat, in the front of which dangled a watch chain. Into a side pocket went the hand, out came an open faced watch, then from an inside breast pocket was drawn a little flat red memorandum book, and bracing herself the owner jotted down some important address given by the other woman, buttoned herself up snugly, drew a dainty silk handkerchief from somewhere under the tail of her coat, touched her dear little nose, and signaling to the conductor swung off with all the easy nonchalance of a woman hardened to the convenience of five pockets and a coat-tail handkerchief bag. New York Letter.

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 15 May 1891: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil suggests that the young lady, so startling with her atypically empty hands, was cleverly avoiding the pecuniary losses that occurred so frequently in the crush of humanity on the street-cars.

The press debated over how best to carry a pocket-book when ladies ventured out in public:

PRO: In view of the recent unsuccessful exploits of one Jack the Pocket Ripper, it is a matter of congratulation that the women were old fashioned enough to carry their purses in their hands. Philadelphia Press.

And CON: In view of the numerous cases of pocketbook snatching reported lately in all parts of the city, it might be a good thing for “the new woman” to adopt the masculine fashion of carrying one’s purse in one’s pocket. New York Herald.

The Norfolk [VA] Virginian 4 May 1895: p. 8

There was also an anti-purse faction among the Suffragettes, asserting that those burdensome purses were the reason that women lagged behind in professional and political life. The so-called “Suffragette” costume was designed to eliminate hand-bags, with useful pockets in divided skirt and mannish coat.

Mrs Jenness Miller, the “apostle of culture in dress” went even further. She believed “in plenty of pockets and thinks that man’s superiority began with them.”

Mrs Daffodil raises her eye-brows dubiously at Mrs Jenness Miller’s theory.  She feels that Man’s feeling of superiority began with spears, greater upper body strength, and the ability to hunt mastodons in packs. Pockets, if involved at all, were a mere foot-note.

Mrs Daffodil herself insists on pockets in all of her garments. It is a comfort to have to hand at all times a pocket-handkerchief, an aide-memoire for jotting down interesting, and possibly actionable, bits of gossip, a well-sharpened pocket-knife,  useful lengths of twine, and other convenient articles so necessary to her work.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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2 thoughts on “The Woman with Five Pockets: 1891

  1. Ruth Beaty

    Oh my, a subject dear to my…uhm…heart. (I’m the little terror who insisted grandma not make her any dresses unless they had pockets, btw.) I wear pants and jackets and vests with pockets all the time, and I’m old enough to not worry so much about a fashionable shape without them, lol. Mind you, my purse definitely has enough pockets to make me delirious so that everything can be sorted and found at a moments notice. But there are times when it’s handy to shove my coin purse in my pocket and run into the store. Like you, I always carry a number of useful items with me wherever I go.

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    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      A sensible lady! One cannot imagine why (except for the trifling expense) pockets ceased to be a required feature of ladies’ clothing. Mrs Daffodil puts the blame squarely on the hand-bag lobby.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

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