Sunday, 1 October 2017


As I type, there’s news of a certain department store’s going gender neutral with its children’s clothing display, together with a buzz about clothing companies that offer gender free clothes for adults.  

As a beloved work colleague used to say, “What’s not to like?”   

Clothes are something where it's good to have choice. 

For example, from what I’ve seen on social media, over the last while, children’s authors and illustrators have begun to really Dress Up for public appearances, almost cos-playing characters from their own books, which is often incredibly cute and lovely and, most importantly, very photogenic. 

Lots of fun too, although I do, slightly, worry that the Publicity Department's passion for authors in costumes could suggest that the characters within the pages aren’t quite interesting enough anymore  but that may just be picky me.

However, when a writer’s not Busy Appearing, other rules come into play. One of the delights of ordinary life and free-lance working is that you can wear what you want, even until it is threadbare. (Hint: you may well have to.)  

I think that genderless clothes make great work clothes. 

Who doesn’t want garments that give you room to move, to reach and do things? Who doesn’t want colours that are subtle and easy to wear, made in fabrics that feel good but need minimal attention? Clothes that help you do what you need to do, where ink and paint won't do damage  and you can give your mind to your work?? Nobody!  

(Especially if you can also wear that daintily drifting tutu, if you choose to?)

 Unfortunately, this leads me to my great gripe:

Why oh why are the pockets in many women’s clothes so tiny? Why are they no use for anything but the minutest of notebooks, if that? And that’s assuming the pockets are not vestigial flaps, there for the look of it?  Finding useless pockets in women’s clothing makes me feel very un-empowered.

Here - and please don’t mutter any Freudian interpretations at this point - is my version of what life is like when you try using women-sized-'n-styled pockets.

You, the quiet writer, are out among people in an everyday kind of way. You have a jacket on. You spot some interesting thing you really want to note down at that moment, especially if your memory is like mine. Immediately, if you are wearing most women’s jackets,  you have to struggle in a lopsided way to drag your notebook out of a tight fit in the one possible pocket where you’d could have crammed it.

Unfortunately, this action  
a) alerts everyone around you to your cunning note-book intentions when you’d prefer to be secret and subtle. So you can’t write now. Sad face.
b) invites interested questions to which you must think up creative answers that drive that once-useful observation right out of your head, and maybe listen to  someone’s idea for a best selling book . . etc etc. Polite face.
c) risks making you seem incredibly pose-y, which is hugely awkward for all concerned and puts off any new friends. Or relations. Totally embarrassed face.

I should add that you, dear woman writer, may also have struggled to find your pen in another miniature pocket, and to find your glasses so you can manage the teeny-tiny handwriting that will fit the teeny-weeny pages of that neat little girly pocket notebook.  Grrrr.

My gripe is that clothes for men usually have plenty of good-sized pockets that make carrying notebooks an easy task.  Any “writer” character on screen – Larry Durrell, for example -  can, almost in a single practiced move, whip a notebook out of a well-worn jacket pocket and jot down a few golden observations. 

Heavens, a whole stationary company was founded, and flourishes, on this notebook-to-hand principle.

“What About A Handbag?” comes a Lady-Bracknell kind of cry.

Alas, even then, gender difference comes up for the woman writer. 

What kind of bag will it be? 

Probably not one big enough for a an infant v. manuscript swap. 

For the most part, in magazines,  women can clutch handle-less handbags that hold keys, card, mascara and tissues and that's all. They can wield rigid royalty-approved slabs - or they can carry handbags so voluminous one has no chance of finding a notebook without half-climbing inside among the other needful items and being pulled back out by the ankles. A handbag is not the same as a good pocket at the hip.

There’s that whole “how do you carry the bag?” issue too. The best writer’s bags, in my opinion, are hands free; designwise, they nudge towards school bags and rucksacks and man-bags. 

Once you have un-flung the bag from your weary shoulders, found a chair or floor to rest the sack upon, opened up the sections and discovered the hidden interior pocket where your notebook was hidden all this time, such bags may be excellent items.

 Yet, by now, that elusive, critical note-taking moment – the one I originally mentioned - has passed on  . . .

. . . And an empty page can be what you get when your clothes don’t have good note-book-sized pockets.

Obviously, one can extract a slim mobile phone and tap away circumspectly, or mutter notes into it endearingly along with traffic noise, but, to me, that’s not the same thing as being able to use a notebook. 

Writing by hand is something that I enjoy and value - as are doodling, scribbling, sketching, mind-mapping and all sorts of other pre-writing activities - and for those you need good-sized notebooks, and such notebooks therefore need really good-sized pockets, whatever and whether your gender. Hope some clothes designers and shops and stores are reading this post. 

Listen, dear people, big pockets are great. They work.  Please may we have some? Okay?

Thanks for sitting here with today’s grumble. I feel a bit less cross now, though I suspect some of you may have no idea what I’m going on about at all . . . 

By the way, I did think about starting a Campaign for Really Amazing Pockets, but wasn’t sure the acronym worked in the way I wanted. 

Penny Dolan


Susan Price said...

Couldn't agree more, Penny, with everything you say - but you're obviously more truthful than me. If asked, in public, why I was scribbling in a notebook, I would say I was making notes about measurements, to check they were regulation. Instant lack of interest.

Hazel said...

Have a look at Erin is obsessed with making dresses that have POCKETS, and pockets.
Of course she makes and you writing people may not have time for that but pockets can be added -- and it may be worth paying someone to do this for the outfits that you love.
Wear men's clothes??

Joan Lennon said...

CCWP - Campaign for Capacious Writerly Pockets. Sign me up!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I''m just back from a fortnight's travelling around Ireland and Scotland and am even more convinced about the need for good note-book-sized pockets than I was when I wrote this post three weeks ago!

Jane W said...

Try managing a handbag with a crutch on each armm ;)

Lynne Benton said...

Well said, Penny! I have griped about this many times. Would that some clothes manufacturer would heed your post - and our agreements with it!

Enid Richemont said...

Do NOT get me started on those fake zipped pockets or I will blow a gasket! To go to all the trouble of inserting a zip (I'm very familiar with tailoring) and then put nothibg behind it is POCKET BLASPHEMY.

Penny Dolan said...

Very pleased to know my feelings are shared,Lynne and Enid. Thanks.

Penny Dolan said...

Sorry, and Jane too. I'm in great admiration of your tales of travelling about, and can only imagine the steadfast determination that it must take.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I just carry a tote bag and take notes - heresy! - on my iPad or phone. No handbag OR pocket would carry all the stuff I need. As for men's pockets, have you noticed that men tend to lose their wallets more often than women? This is because they will go keeping them in back pockets which are never quite big enough and also lend themselves to being emptied by thieves.

Look What I've Got! Some SF Classics

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Oh this was such a lovely post... nevermind about the thin skin on my hands that gets ripped on enlarged pseudo zip pockets that chew you like a crocodile! There is one picture book that springs immediately to mind and its James Mayhew and Jackie Morris's "Mrs Noah's Pockets" ! Now that's the answer! Thank you for this!

Anne Colledge said...

I carry a huge, bright yellow leather rucksack. If I do not remember to zip it up everything falls out, to my shame.
It has done nothing for my bad back but I can use it to handbag thieves.
Hope this helps.
Anne Colledge