The subject of women’s purses — their size, their contents, and why women are so attached to them — has long been something of a puzzle to many men, who don’t understand why women encumber themselves with something that can often be awkward, bulky, and prone to being left behind in public places.
The answer is simple: pockets, or rather the lack thereof.
If you are a man, you might fail to understand the connection. You are, after all, accustomed to clothing that has multiple pockets of ample capacity. The average pair of men’s pants of any style will probably have at least four pockets, with enough room between them to accommodate a wallet, keys, a cellphone, loose change, and a pair of sunglasses.
Women’s pants, on the other hand, often lack pockets of any kind, or only have two, neither of them large enough to hold anything bigger than a Kleenex. Women’s jackets are usually no better: I have lost count of the number of jackets I’ve owned over the years that either have no pockets, have tiny ones, or (most frustratingly) look like they have pockets but don’t.
The explanation I have heard is that pockets would spoil the “line” of a piece of clothing, or that if women’s garments had pockets we would (silly creatures that we are) actually put things in them and cause the pockets to bag and sag. This might be true if you’re trying to carry bricks around, but I suspect that most women would be fairly sensible, and simply welcome the chance to leave a purse behind for once. The most liberating piece of clothing I ever purchased is a men’s leather jacket which has four huge pockets: two on the outside, and (joy!) two on the inside. As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth its weight in gold.
As for skirts and dresses with pockets: forget it. I have never owned a skirt with pockets, and the last dress I had that came with pockets was one that I owned when Jimmy Carter — bless his little cotton socks — was president of the United States. That might be why I was particularly pleased when I read, after this year’s Oscars ceremony, that the gown actress Gemma Chan wore to the event had cleverly concealed pockets in it, in which Chan stored cookies and rice crackers to get her through the lengthy ceremony.
Neither the pockets nor their contents did anything to mar the look of the gown; indeed, most people probably had no idea the pockets were there until Chan put her hands in them while on the red carpet, so there goes that excuse for not including them in more pieces of women’s clothing. (Also, props to Chan for having the practicality and foresight to pack snacks to the Oscars.)
“That’s fine,” I hear men cry, “but if women just want to carry a wallet, a phone, keys, and sunglasses, why do so many of them carry around purses that are roughly the size of an overnight bag?” The answer is simple: because much of the time we have to carry things in our purses that do not belong to us. When out with family members, we will inevitably be asked to take charge of things such as water bottles, juice boxes, half-eaten items of food that have only been imperfectly re-wrapped, small spur-of-the-moment purchases, mittens, and more, on the grounds of “Well, you can just put it in your purse.”
There is also the fact that many women have found through experience that it pays to be prepared, particularly when young children are involved. Bandaids, wet wipes, snacks, tissues, nail clippers, a nail file, and a pen are just some of the things we often have to produce at short notice, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
So men: don’t laugh or sneer at women’s purses. And if you happen to be a clothing designer, consider incorporating more pockets into women’s garments. They don’t have to be huge: just plentiful and large enough for us to hide some rice crackers in.