Throwback to the Middle Ages. Both men and women lugged around little pouches that were slung from a rope, allowing them to carry any essentials around with them. Clothes had little slits which meant you could easily access your pouch without having to throw off yards of material. In a sense, during this period men and women were equal — in terms of their rights to pockets!
Then, along came the grand 17th century idea of sewing these pouches right into your clothes, enabling the wearer to conceal the items they were carrying and keep them close to their bodies. The pocket was born. However, unlike men’s pockets which were easily accessible and sewn right into the linings of their coats, waistcoats and breeches, women still had to rely on having separate pockets that sat underneath their petticoats. For a bit of context — according to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the average 17th century woman wore a petticoat and two layers of undergarments. Her pocket would be tied around her waist, in between her under-petticoat and petticoat. Women essentially had to get undressed to access the contents of their pockets. So even if they could carry their personal items around with them, they couldn’t get them out in public. And thus, the inequality of men and women’s pockets was born.
As women’s fashion evolved in the 1790s, the pocket slowly began to disappear as more figure-hugging dresses came into fashion. Women had to revert to having their ‘pockets’ on show to the world, opting for small decorative bags, called reticules, that could scarcely fit a hankie and a coin. This was essentially an embodiment of the fact that women had next to no access to money or property, therefore wouldn’t need a functional pocket. There are even rumours that during the French Revolution, both the external and internal pocket was banished from women’s clothing to prevent them from concealing revolutionary material. Women’s pockets essentially disappeared because their husbands would carry all their money and necessities.