There are many things in life we take for granted, yet if they disappeared from our lives, we would sorely miss them. There’s the weighty stuff like your health, the freedom to vote, running water and your parents, then on the lighter end of the spectrum are warm shoes, windscreen wipers and if you’re lucky a good broadband connection.
Two others, and closer to home, are pockets and purses and their ability to carry our belongings close to us. Without these spaces, our capacity to transport valuables would be limited, to say the least, and determined mainly by the size of one’s hands. This is even before considering the loss of your assets with phones, train tickets, bank cards and Mother’s Day cards getting left here, there and everywhere. With relief then, we can all relax and return to the security of our pockets and purses and go about our lives with a greater sense of contentment and gratitude.
Patch, slanted welt & jet pockets
Why the essay then on pockets and purses? We were contacted by The Fashion Institute of Technology last month (FIT) who informed us their graduate students are presenting an exhibition on – you’ve guessed it - on pockets and purses: Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function. As part of a more extensive collection of garments on display, they were planning to display a man’s coat from the permanent collection to illustrate the role of the ticket pocket in menswear.
HRH 1900 The Prince of Wales Coat
That man's coat was made by ourselves. The curator noticed a Meyer & Mortimer 36 Conduit St (our old address) label inside the interior right breast pocket. It includes a handwritten note reading HRH 1900 The Prince of Wales. They asked if we could confirm its origin and if it had belonged to Albert Edward (son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert). Being Royal Warrant Holders, with a history of making garments for the Royals, we were able to confirm both. We are also overjoyed to see a historical M&M garment, one with such an illustrious previous owner, being used in the exhibition.
Our previous Royal Warrants
The Museum at FIT, which is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). It is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion. Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present. Like other fashion museums, such as The London Museum, Musée de la Mode, the Mode Museum, and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion.
FIT in NYC. Image courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim
Pockets themselves, or fitchets, can be traced back to the 13th Century. They first appeared in tunics as vertical slits. In Europe in the 15th Century pockets became more noticeable with the following century seeing a significant increase in popularity – along with pickpocketing no doubt. FIT’s Pockets to Purses: Fashion + Function follows on from this concerning itself with developments from the 18th Century.
At that time pockets were built into jackets and waistcoats with men carrying a variety of objects which included books. As a result, the bulky items disrupted the lines of a man’s tailored ensemble. Alternatively, women’s pockets began as separate accessories, much like the purse is today, yet were tied to the body and worn underneath a skirt. These were hidden, allowing women to carry items while maintaining privacy.
A man’s suit pocket, velvet with silk embroidery, c. 1785, France
As with today’s tailoring, particularly men’s suits, there is a balance between fashion and function. There is a need for jacket and trouser pockets to carry smartphones, wallets, coins and keys. These items need to be accommodated carefully to avoid disrupting style. At Meyer & Mortimer, meeting a customer for the first time, we ask about their daily lives, what they tend to carry, and work these into their suit.
However, in the 20th Century and possibly in response to the outbreak of the Great War pockets, and there functionality prevailed, with designers featuring pockets as design elements. To illustrate, the FIT students have on display a Molyneux dress dating from 1948. The dress has eight strategically placed pockets on the hips making the waist appear smaller which is a silhouette that dominated postwar fashion.
Molyneux, wool houndstooth dress, circa 1948, France
A male equivalent would be a bespoke shooting jacket seen here made by ourselves. The jacket is heavy on pockets and not only that but spacious too with bellow pockets to hold an array of weekend paraphernalia such as cartridges, flasks and the like. The jacket includes a vertical in breast pocket for passports and a poacher’s pocket (a large concealed pocket) with a supporting strap in the skirt of the jacket to avoid distorting the look and feel of the garment.
A Meyer & Mortimer bespoke shooting jacket
This brings us to the end of our short enquiry into pockets, purses and princes. We hope you have enjoyed it. If you are in or close to New York do please visit our friends at FIT (details below) and check out this fascinating exhibition. And the next time you reach for your phone in your inside breast pocket or your wallet in your hip right jetted pocket (with button), spare a thought for the humble pocket and consider how much happier we are to have them in our lives.
Shortly after publishing this piece, Paul Munday flew to New York City to visit our customers. Late on Friday afternoon, after a day of fittings, he made it over to FIT to meet the Associate Curator of Costume, Emma McClendon. Emma introduced Paul to graduate students Bethany Gingrich and Virginia Theerman who very kindly showed him around the exhibition. The image shows Paul with the HRH Prince of Wales coat made by Meyer & Mortimer.
Paul Munday reunited (to a degree) with HRH's M&M coat