Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Gendered Pocket: Fashion and Patriarchal Anxieties about the Female Consumer in Select Victorian Literature
by Fitch, Samantha, Ph.D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2017, 265; 10606781
Abstract (Summary)

The popularity of the iPhone generated a barrage of digital comments, complaints, and articles about how the trendy phone didn’t fit in women’s pockets, from articles like the one in the Atlantic titled “The Gender Politics of Pockets” to a vlog called “Girl Pockets” by popular vlogger Hank Green. Why are women protesting about the inadequacy of their pockets, and how is this indicative of sexism and inequality? An examination of the gendered history of pockets answers this question, and is rooted in the literature of the Victorian era. I use thing theory to reveal how the pocket was both an agent and a symbol of economic change in this period. This dissertation considers the importance of the pocket, not only as an item of fashion, but also as an object that carried symbolic and representative meanings in Victorian society.

Much like women’s fashion in general, pockets in the Victorian period were used as disciplinary forces. The increase in technology and the rise in consumerism meant that women were leaving the house, and a female buying force became immensely important to the British economy. Part of the effort to counter this threat was to make women’s fashion debilitating and limiting. As the receptacle of money and object of convenience to a mobile shopper, the pocket was an important part of the effort to curtail feminine power, and this can be seen in Victorian literature. A fashionable woman was forced to use separate tie-pockets, which were exposed to theft or ransacking, and were also inconvenient. This meant that women’s pockets were more vulnerable, and in economic and psychological terms, women suffered for this. The comparison with men’s easily accessible and secure pockets worked to reassert the traditional hierarchy in the Victorian patriarchal system. Consequently a tension was created: the female shopper represented a much-needed potential economic force, but because of the threat to patriarchy that she represented, this force was constantly being constrained and controlled.

Through an examination of Victorian literature, art, and advertisements, we can see that women’s pockets, then as now, were unsatisfactory.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Orchard, Christopher
Commitee: Downing, David, Wisnicki, Adrian, Yang, Lingyan
School: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 79/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Fashion, Womens studies, British and Irish literature
Keywords: British, Economics, Fashion, Gender, Literature, Women characters
Publication Number: 10606781
ISBN: 978-0-355-16770-2
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