"The Pocket" by Barbara Burman

The Pocket A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660–1900 Barbara Burman, Ariane Fennetaux

Publication date:
14 Apr 2020
Yale University Press
264 pages: 235 x 175mm

Pencils, a sketchbook, cake, yards of stolen ribbon, thimbles, snuff boxes, a picture of a lover, two live ducks: these are just some of the fascinating things carried by women and girls in their tie-on pockets, an essential accessory throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

This first book-length study of the tie-on pocket combines materiality and gender to provide new insight into the social history of women’s everyday lives—from duchesses and country gentry to prostitutes and washerwomen—and explore their consumption practices, work, sociability, mobility, privacy, and identity. The authors draw on an unprecedented study of surviving pockets in museums and private collections to identify their materials, techniques, and decoration; their use is investigated through sources as diverse as criminal trials, letters, diaries, inventories, novels, and advertisements. Richly illustrated with paintings, satirical prints, and photographs of artifacts in detail, this innovative book reveals the unexpected story of these deeply evocative and personal objects.

Barbara Burman is an independent scholar, and Ariane Fennetaux is associate professor of 18th-century history at Université de Paris.

“What particularly interests Burman and Fennetaux is the way in which women of all classes have historically used these tie-on pockets as a supplementary body part to help them negotiate their way through a world that was not built to suit them” —Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

'The authors' careful research is enthralling . . . a very handsome illustrated book'—Libération

'A fascinating book'—Le Monde

"Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux demonstrate the riches to be found in a unique gendered accessory – the tie-on pocket. They illuminate centuries of British women’s history through their deep knowledge of material culture, showcasing women’s priorities and embodied experiences. Omnipresent, though often hidden, pockets evoked fashion and female virtues. Recovered histories of pockets, their embellishment and persistent usage, reveal vital features of women’s lives"– Professor Beverly Lemire, Henry Marshall Tory Chair at the University of Alberta