Writer’s Deep Dive: 18th Century Pockets
For the past 17 months I have been putting out Writer’s Guides in an attempt to provide writers with accurate information. However, I have received several requests to do a deeper dive into my topics. Starting this year, I will be putting out Writer’s Deep Dives every other week. However, I will continue to put out my Writer’s Guides twice a month and alternate between the two. If there is a topic that you want me to do a Deep Dive into, please reach out and let me know.
The presence and/or size of women’s pockets has been a topic of hot debate for a while. The last time women had pockets of decent size was the 18th century. Let’s dive in!
Women’s pockets during the 18th century were a separate garment and not integral to their clothing. They tied with a ribbon around the waist and were accessed by slits in the sides of her skirts. There could be a single pocket bag or a pair of them.
They were large! I made a pair of 18th century-style pockets for my 1775 dress based on surviving examples. They are easily large enough to fit a modern smart phone plus my wallet, fan, mitts, and car keys. There are even larger examples out there. I like to call them the mom purse of 18th century pockets.
Pockets could be plain or made of fancy fabric. Quilted or pieced pockets were popular. I have a friend who used velvet as the lining for her pocket so she could also be certain when she was inside them.
Since pockets were worn every day and were hidden from view close to the body, they were a very personal item. Many women embroidered them with private designs, sometimes including the initials of lovers. Several reenactors have kept up this tradition and there are some hilarious designs out there. Here are two of my favorites.
The Write Angle
Since 18th century pockets are so big, there are some great opportunities as a writer to take advantage of them. Several items could be smuggled inside them, including maps, bottles of poison, or a knife. Since they were rarely suspected, a woman could smuggle all kinds of things in her large pockets.
One of the risks to this design was that the ribbon that secured the pocket(s) around the waist could break. In fact, there is an 18th century nursery rhyme about that. “Lucy Locket lost her pocket. Kitty Fisher found it. Not a penny was there in it, only a ribbon round it.” Loosing a pocket could be a fantastic way to start or advance the plot in a novel, especially if the pocket contains important documents or another vital item.
Also, if a woman had embroidered the name or initials of her secret or forbidden lover on her pockets, and they were discovered by her family or husband, this could be another great way to advance the plot. Personal embroidery of this type was common during the 18th century.
It can be easy to miss the pocket opening. My first time wearing pockets, I thought I had my hand inside it and let go of my phone, only to have it fall out the bottom of my skirt. A woman missing her pocket and dropping an important item out through her skirts could also be a great plot point.
I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.
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