A Question of Pockets
Written by G. Bruce Boyer for Manner of Man Magazine and Welldressed
I guess what got me thinking about pockets was looking at all those trendy field-and-stream coats, the parkas and hiking coats, military jackets and barn coats, the heritage signature collections. There were pockets everywhere. Huge bellows pockets and little teeny zippered pockets on their sleeves, hand-warmer pockets with snaps and flaps with Velcro tabs, and back flaps that become game pockets, bellows pockets hanging across the chest, pencil pockets within larger chest pockets and secret billfold pockets hidden in the lining. What were all those pockets used for, I kept asking myself. Just another egregious example of hyper-design, I kept thinking.
But then it struck me that I was sitting here in a three-piece business suit, and I’ve got more than a few pockets myself. I started to take stock. I started with my vest, which I find has four pockets, none of which seem to be very functional. Can they actually hold more than a car park ticket or a small tin of aspirin? Eyeglasses, wallet, and date book all make bulges, and add another inch or two to the torso. Rummaging I the pockets of my vest, I find nothing but a paper clip and a folded bit of paper napkin with a totally unfamiliar phone number written on it -- was it for business or pleasure I wonder?
My suit coat seems to have pockets everywhere: three on the inside and four on the surface. I always use the inside right chest pocket for my wallet. I learned that from watching pickpockets in old movies. They always go for the right inside pocket, which led me to understand that’s where the wallet is supposed to be kept. The inside left one I use for my pen and odd bits of paper like a bus or train schedule, letter I always forget to mail, the receipt from the ATM, or some brochure or flyer someone hands me on the street and I’m too embarrassed to refuse. Usually these flyers are promoting either a dry cleaners, Chinese take-aways, all-nude reviews, or some religious movement.
Below the left inside pocket I find I’ve got a small entry one -- a two-inch slit opening and two or three inches deep. I'm not exactly sure what this small pocket is for. People have told me various things ( this is all in the realm of hearsay, you understand): that it’s for business cards, a comb, a pen, or even condoms. I keep asking other men, and I find most of them didn’t even know they had a pocket there!
Back on the surface of my coat, I’ve got four pockets, two of them are symmetrically placed and with flaps. These two lower ones (one on each side at hip level) are convenient catch-alls for stuffing anything in that will fit: small Filofax notebook, paperback novel, cellphone, a breakfast roll. While stuffing the right-side one I usually catch my thumb on an ingenious little pouch hidden inside. This secret little pocket-within-a-pocket, about two inches square, makes a great place to store a few paper clips, or a folded bit of napkin with a phone number on it.
About three inches above that right-side lower pocket is a duplicate on in miniature. About 2 ½" across, my tailor tells me it’s called a “ticket” or “change” pocket, which would explain it’s use. I’m sure it’s a good place for those things, but it’s really a perfect place to store a small tin of aspirin. Not that I use aspirin regularly, you understand, but I carry it regularly for those special moments when prayer doesn’t seem to have as immediate an effect.
Above the left outside hip pocket, way up on the chest, is the fourth pocket. This is for a handkerchief: show, not blow. If I’ve got sunglasses I prefer to keep them there too, but usually the pocket is too deep for them, so they slither down and make an angular sort of bulge just above my waistline which looks rather like a surgeon had left an instrument in me.
Examining my trousers, I find I’ve got six pockets. Two in the rear, right one open for the use of a functional handkerchief, and left one buttoned and empty. I experimented with putting my handkerchief in the buttoned pocket, but eventually came to the conclusion there was almost no need to protect a cotton handkerchief from theft, and switched it back to the right side again.
I use the two side trouser pockets a great deal. For my hands, of course, although Mother said a gentleman didn’t do that sort of thing, and perhaps a few dollar bills. Deep in the right pocket is an additional little pouch hidden away (exactly like the one in the right side jacket pocket) which has been simply and brilliantly engineered to hold small change without having it roll out on the floor to make great clanging sounds at the wrong moment.
Finally, I discovered one day I’ve got a hidden two-inch pocket in the waistband of my trousers, midway between the fly and the right-side pocket. Since I’ve already got several pockets for loose change, I use this secret on-seam pocket for my door key. I mean, you can only carry so much small change, don’t you think?
Adding it all up, it seems an incredible amount of stuffing space for three garments -- seventeen pockets in all! If they were all used, you’d need a software filing system to keep track of it all. You’ve noticed of course the fellow on the train platform shaking his head while patting himself all over and finally turning all these little cotton bags inside out in the hope of finding something he’s become slightly panicky about. Talk of love and passion all you want, real ecstasy is discovering you haven’t lost your rail ticket after all.
Eventually I found it more and more difficult trying to distribute a growing number of personal items about my person, and took to carrying a bag to hold it all. Over the years a mere wallet, some folding cash, a handkerchief, and a pen have spontaneously generated into several pounds of paraphernalia: notebook, glasses, pens, business cards, half-a-dozen letters for the mail, commuter reading, sometimes a small tape recorder, a cellphone. My pockets have long since proved inadequate to the challenge, and I don’t even own an Ipod or Blackberry, or the other latest technology. Actually, there’s probably some small plastic micro-chip device that can do the work of all this stuff, and shine my shoes at the same time. I must look into that one of these days.
When I took to carrying the bag, I understood it had to be something unmistakably masculine. An old shotgun shell bag worked for a while, as did a small fisherman's duffel, but eventually I settled on a slightly smaller-than-average leather briefcase that resembles something in which a plumber might carry his best wrenches. I only wish I’d have gotten the larger size now, because the small bag’s already at the rupture point, and I haven’t even squeezed in the solar calculator, manicure kit, and travel umbrella.
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