When the Duchess of Cambridge’s 40th birthday portraits were released, we knew we’d love her hair, her make-up, her general Kate-ness.
But what we hadn’t predicted, and the unexpected joy which sent women into raptures, was the fact that her portrait featured . . . pockets.
Yes, pockets! Big, deep, substantial, hand-hiding ones, buried in a spectacular scarlet one-shouldered gown. It was quite the moment.
‘For my generation,’ one millennial fashionista wrote solemnly on Twitter, ‘the pocket is the equivalent of the contraceptive pill.’ Another added: ‘First we get the pockets, then we get the power, then we get the freedom!’
Men were left somewhat baffled by the strength of feeling that mere pockets in a dress could evoke.
When the Duchess of Cambridge’s 40th birthday portraits were released, we knew we’d love her hair, her make-up, her general Kate-ness
But they have never had to struggle with a lack of pockets, or — even more insulting — false pockets. Women know what I mean; those suit jacket flaps full of promise that actually have nothing underneath. Or trouser pockets that couldn’t fit a 2p coin in, let alone an iPhone.
For decades, we have awkwardly juggled our possessions between our hands and our handbags. No man understands the pain of holding a champagne flute, canapé and clutch bag at a party, as someone leans in for a handshake or kiss.
But now, dare I dream, the handbag is dead. Long live the pocket! Because they are unobtrusive, cheap, democratic, levelling little lifesavers.
Just look at Kate, simultaneously regal and can-do casual in her red Alexander McQueen gown. What to do with her hands? Sorted. Can’t be without her phone? No problem.
A woman with her hand in her pocket, as can be seen in all these pictures, is instantly rendered relaxed. With pockets in your dress or skirt you stand taller; you are no longer lopsided, your shoulders aching. You feel free.
I imagine that when Kate’s photo landed, the blood drained from the faces of CEOs of luxury handbag brands around the world. A little like the moment Clark Gable removed his shirt on screen to reveal he wasn’t wearing a vest.
The pocket trend has been growing over the past few years, both on the red carpet and in budget versions.
As these pictures show, the High Street is awash with dresses with hidden depths — from sexy shirt-dresses by upmarket Ted Baker to floral midis by Boden.
But then, even wedding dresses come with pockets now. Designer Stella McCartney has long included pockets in her formal dresses. As a woman, she knows what their presence means. Because the pocket is not just a fashion statement, it’s a political one, too.
Historically, it was deemed that women didn’t ‘need’ pockets given that the menfolk controlled the purse strings.
The pocket fell out of favour at the end of the 18th century, seen as dowdy and low-rent, favoured by apron-wearing servants and rural types prone to stealing.
The first modern handbag, introduced in the 1790s, was called a reticule, from the Latin reticulum, meaning a netted bag. It soon became known as the ridicule — an apt nickname given what we modern women now spend on them.
As a result, pockets were forced underground (or should that be underskirt?), with higher-class women hiding them in petticoats. They became an aid to feminist empowerment. Initially, the most commonly secreted item was a love letter; later, Suffragette leaflets.
A high point for pockets in women’s clothing was during the World Wars, when women were given more utilitarian jobs and, arguably, more independence.
In Hollywood, a woman with a pocket denoted she stood for no nonsense. Take Bette Davis, putting them to stupendous effect in 1950’s All About Eve.
There is even a marvellous book devoted to the subject: The Pocket: A Hidden History Of Women’s Lives, 1660-1900.
They don’t work with everything: pencil skirts and bodycon dresses are too snug. And don’t make too much of a statement — a pocket should be discreet. Too big, and you risk looking like a kangaroo.
But, oh, I’m glad to see them. If for nothing more than the presence of pockets at last releases women from the tyranny of that traditional photo pose, designed to make her look taller and thinner: one elbow on hip, one stretched out — like a teapot.
Instead, with pockets we can just bury errant hands, instantly making us look more self-assured.
It’s one small gesture from Kate. One giant leap for womankind.
They’re now gracing the red carpet…
In bloom: Actress Sharon Stone at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival resplendent in Dolce & Gabbana, costing upwards of £12,000
Knives out, hands in: Ana de Armas at the Golden Globes 2020, wearing Ralph & Russo, £8,000
The gingham girl: Jenna Coleman at Wimbledon last year in Ralph Lauren, £249
… and where to find them on the High St
Short and sweet: Lily-Rose Depp at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, wearing Chanel, around £4,000
Versatile: Floral multi-coloured short-sleeved dress, £110, Boden
Effortless: Floral-print maxi, £295, Me+Em
Top trend: Deep pink check with frill neckline, £145, Kitri
Statement print: Pink and black T-shirt dress, £60, Boden
Tiered: Organic cotton design, £116, Baukjen
Subtle: Green shirt-dress, £97, Ted Baker