Fashions with Peculiar Pockets, 1917

Three dresses with pockets, January 1917. Butterick patterns from Delineator.

Three dresses with pockets, January 1917. Butterick patterns from Delineator.

I intended to write a nice, short blog post showing color images of clothing from January 1917, but I started to notice the many variations on pockets in women’s clothing from that year.

Pockets were a center of interest in 1917, and quite varied.

Pockets were a center of interest in 1917, and quite varied.

Women's pockets, January 1917. Unusual shapes, in a range of sizes. Delineator.

Women’s pockets, January 1917. Unusual shapes, in a range of sizes. Delineator. Pockets were often quite low on the hip. The one at bottom right is trimmed with several rows of topstitching, very popular in 1917. The construction of the plaid double flap pocket at top right is unusual.

At the end of a few hours browsing through Delineator magazines from 1917, I had a picture file much too large to put in one post.

There were gigantic pockets…

Gigantic pockets, Feb. 1917. Delineator.

Gigantic pockets, Feb. 1917. Delineator. (Plus tiny, triangular pockets on the blouse.)

Ingenious pockets….

A pocket that is also a belt carrier. August, 1917. Delineator.

A deep pocket that is also a belt carrier. August, 1917. Delineator.

Several interesting pockets from 1917. Delineator.

Several interesting pockets from 1917. Delineator.

I saw large, flapless pockets that gaped open and were secured with buttons,…

A pocket so big it has to be buttoned in several places. March 1917. Behind it, a pocket gathered into ruffles at the top.

A pocket so big that it has to be buttoned to prevent gaping. Delineator, March 1917. Behind it, a pocket gathered into ruffles at the top.

There were pockets hanging from belts and waistbands,…

Fabric belts with attached pockets, 1917. Delineator.

Self-fabric belts with attached pockets, 1917. Delineator.

Pockets suspended from the waist, Feb. 1917, Delineator.

Small pockets suspended from the waist, Feb. 1917, Delineator.

Hanging pockets trimmed with white soutache braid. Delineator, June 1917.

Hanging pockets trimmed with white soutache braid. Delineator, June 1917.

A peculiar hanging pocket on a girl's dress, and one trimmed with buttons. January 1917, Delineator.

Left, a peculiar, gathered, hanging pocket on a girl’s dress; right, wide pockets trimmed with buttons. January 1917, Delineator.

Were these belts with pockets attached to the skirt? It's not always easy to tell. Delineator, Oct. 1917.

Were these belts with pockets attached to the skirts? It’s not always easy to tell;  they were apparently so common that the editors didn’t feel obliged to mention them in pattern descriptions. Delineator, Oct. 1917.

There were oddly shaped “bellows” pockets, which expanded,…

“Bellows pockets” on clothes for teens, March 1917. The editors said you could get your daughter to compromise on other fashion details, but she would insist on bellows pockets. Delineator.

Bellows pocket on an adult woman's suit, Delineator, March 1917, p. 63.

Hanging bellows pockets on an adult woman’s suit, Delineator, March 1917, p. 63.

Pointy pockets often stuck out at the hips…

Pockets that end in points, 1917. Delineator.

Pockets that end in points, and stand away from the body. 1917. Delineator.

More pointy pockets, 1917. Pockets were often enhanced with embroidery.

More pointy pockets, 1917. Pockets were often enhanced with embroidery. I suspect that almost anything you put in this kind of pocket would fall out when you sat down.

There were hanging pockets that looked like drawstring handbags,

These hanging pockets look like the drawstring handbags of the period, but they attached to the waist or belt of the dress. 1917, Delineator.

These hanging pockets look like the drawstring purses of the period, but they are attached to the waist or belt of the skirt. 1917, Delineator.

There were shallow, semi-circular pockets that wrapped around to the back of the dress:

A shallow, crescent shaped pocket on Butterick 9931, for women or for teens. 1917.

A shallow, rounded pocket on Butterick 9931, for women or for teens. 1917.

And there were pockets that gathered into a ruffle at the top:

Right, Butterick 8989, a coat or jacket with gathered pockets. 1917.

Right, Butterick 8989, a coat or jacket with gathered pockets. 1917.

Delineator showed sketches of the pockets on French designer dresses and suits:

Pockets in Paris, Fall 1917. Chanel and Marital et Armand. Sketched in Delineator.

Pockets in Paris, Fall 1917. A suit designed by Chanel, and a dress with unusual pockets by Martial et Armand. Sketched in Delineator, they inspired Butterick patterns.

Pockets on Paris fashions, Fall of 1917. Poiret and Doucet. Sketcher in Delineator.

Pockets on Paris fashions from Fall of 1917, by Poiret and Doucet. Sketched in Delineator. Embroidery on pockets was often seen, and that odd “turned up across the jacket hem” pocket was influential.

A girl's walking top, Butterick, April 1917.

A girl’s walking top, Butterick 9047, April 1917. These pockets literally couldn’t get any lower on the jacket.

When I was still a child, eating in a highchair, I had a plastic bib with a sort of trough at the bottom to catch spilled food — it was rather like these blouses:

These blouses end in a sort of gutter; buttoned into place they would have acted as a pocket. To me, they look unflattering and nonsensical ...

These blouses end in a sort of gutter; buttoned or stitched into place they would have acted as a pocket. Butterick patterns from Delineator magazine.

To me, they look unflattering and nonsensical, but not as nutty as the skirt on the left, below…

A skirt with a buttoned cuff... 1917.

A skirt with a buttoned turn-up cuff… 1917.

… or this skirt — illustrated twice –guaranteed to (visually) add pounds:

Are those pockets for ammo? They are described as having

Are those pockets for ammo? The skirt is described as having “French gathers.” Butterick skirt pattern 9140, Delineator, May 1917.

Two normal skirts with 1917 pocket variations. The skirt in the center is weird. Butterick patterns.

Skirts with 1917 pocket variations. The skirts at far left and upper right are typical, but the skirt in the center, with button tab (pockets?) is weird. Butterick patterns.

To modern eyes, the essential oddity of many 1917 fashions is that they were intended to make a woman’s hips look wider.

Pockets were used to exaggerate the width of women's hips, in French designer fashions and in home sewing patterns. Bothe from Delineator, 1917.

Pockets were used to exaggerate the width of women’s hips, in French designer fashions (left) and in home sewing patterns (right.) Both illustrations from Delineator, 1917.

Back views of three Butterick patterns, Sep. 1917. Delineator, p. 50.

Back views of three Butterick patterns, Sept. 1917. Delineator, p. 50. The two on the left really exaggerate hip width..

1917 pockets often curved around the hip to the back of the body.

1917 pockets wrap around the body, increasing the apparent size of the hips. Delineator.

Many 1917 pockets wrap around the body, and stand away from it,  increasing the apparent size of the hips. Delineator.

Modern pockets tend to stop at or before the side seam, but in 1917, many pockets wrapped around the hip — from side front to somewhere on the back.

In thes back views of Butterick patterns, you can see that the pocket continues around the side, extending the hip width. Delineator, Oct. 1917.

In these back views of Butterick patterns, you can see that the gaping pocket continues around the side, extending the width of the body at the hip. Delineator, Oct. 1917.

In the 1850’s and the 1950’s, full skirts and exaggerated hips made corseted female waists look smaller by comparison. But in 1917, there was no emphasis on a small waist.

Dresses for misses 14 to 19. Butterick patterns, July 1917. Delineator.

Dresses for misses 14 to 19. Butterick patterns, July 1917. Delineator. These pockets start toward the side in front and wrap around to the back of the dresses.

There were pockets so strange that only the model’s pose confirmed that they were pockets.

Two Butterick patterns from 1917. Left, No. 9376. Can you call the side opening on the barrel dress a pocket?

Two Butterick patterns from 1917. Left, No. 9376. Right, No. 9274. There are  side openings on the “tonneau” (barrel) dress at right,  but can we call them “pockets”?

And, especially prevalent were pockets that drew attention to women’s hips.

An embroidered pocket wraps around the sides of this gold coat. Delineator cover, October 1917.

An embroidered pocket wraps around the sides of this gold coat. Delineator cover, October 1917.

There’s no doubt that pockets add bulk, especially if you put things in them. But sometimes you just need a place to stash a hankie, a key, or a few coins.

Today, when many women keep a cellphone within reach at all times, it’s perversely not easy to find a dress or knit top that has pockets. However, in 1917, women were “spoiled for choice.”

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22 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Children's Vintage styles, Dating Vintage Patterns, Musings, Vintage Accessories, Vintage Couture Designs, World War I

22 responses to “Fashions with Peculiar Pockets, 1917

  1. I love some of the pockets from this time, I keep meaning to make some. But some are most unattractive 🙂

  2. I love pockets in general, but most of these do not seem practical or attractive. Were there that many large things that needed to be stored in 1917? Most just add to the hips or belly, not a spots where I need a lot more fabric!

    • I guess fashion is fashion. I don’t need stiletto heels that put all the weight on the very back of the foot, but they are everywhere on TV and in the magazines. I did buy a hideous vest for walking, because the pockets will hold a sketchbook or a paperback as well as my wallet. But I look like a tank.

  3. What a great reference for all us sewers looking for more ways to add pockets – THANK YOU!!!

  4. Love this.
    I guess these were tough times – WWI austerity – and women were thin. They were also having to make dresses with a lot less fabric, now that clothing was rationed. Perhaps the pocket thing was a fillip to the more sumptuous Edwardian days of flounces and ruffles and extravagance? The silhouette was slimmer by necessity, but pockets bigged it up and added a feminine touch. Hats were doing similar things – cloche, but with feathers and bows and flowers adding an (economical) feminine touch.

    • Butterick patterns (Butterick published Delineator magazine) were sold in England as well as in the U.S. so you may be right about an embroidered pocket — or dress — being an affordable luxury. I also wondered if wide hips — as a sign of fertility — were psychologically linked to the wartime death toll. I do notice that dresses began to slim down and use much less fabric by the end of 1917 — on their way to the post-war tubular silhouette. America’s experience of WW II was very different from that of Europeans, but fashion was still Franco-centric. P.S. I loved your non-fiction book The Housekeeper’s Tale and highly recommend it!

  5. Dee

    Thank you for sharing these. The variety and whimsy are delightful!

  6. I love this post! I think the hip pockets are rather flattering – extending the hips to minimise the waist. Lovely ideas.

  7. I’d never noticed how many different kinds of pockets there were on fashions back then, but you’re absolutely right! Such fantastic variations! 🙂

  8. Black Tulip

    Fascinating post – thank you!.

  9. Christina

    Great examples of pockets! The military and functional references are in keeping with the period. The ammo pocket is fun.

  10. Pingback: Big Pockets, Big Hips, Tiny Waists in the 1950s | witness2fashion

  11. Sophia

    Thank you for all the wonderful pictures. I hadn’t realised how much Lagenlook borrows the pocket designs from this era as well as the high waist and layers. For example, the Marcy Tilton sewing patterns for Vogue. Vogue 8813 in the current catalogue comes to mind.

  12. I have in my collection, a circa 1917 top and skirt in which the top has those gutter-like pockets. I know they don’t sound very flattering, but the set displays quite well, and looks fun and fashionable. I need to take some photos of it.

  13. K.

    A couple of these pockets remind me of a detail I kept seeing on skirts when I looked at a lot of late Victorian and Edwardian women’s sport suits the other year. Some of the skirts have two large, buttoned straps on the front of the skirt, much like extra-large buttoned belt loops, permanently attached to the top of the waistband and buttoned to the skirt quite a bit below it. The ninth illustration from the top has the clearest example of a similar detail here, on the right.

    I kept seeing that particular detail both in fashion illustrations and on extant garments and assumed it was one of those vestigial details that had lost all or most of it’s original function, but I couldn’t figure out what the functional origin was. Perhaps attaching the jacket to the skirt, to keep it from riding up? I never found one that didn’t look very much like a design element. One of the extant examples hid pocket openings underneath, looking closely at photos, but none of the earlier ones were actually pockets, as far as I can tell. Any idea what those straps are for, or what the origin is?

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