The Business Times

Picking the right pockets

Published Fri, Nov 7, 2014 · 09:50 PM

AT a recent etiquette class, a man, I was told, raised his hand to ask: "Where should I keep my iPhone, given that they're getting so big these days?"

"In your back pocket," was the manners maven's answer, because - as her hands gesticulated circles around his pelvic region - "there is so much going on down there already". Erk.

It's a real, albeit admittedly first-world, problem: Pocket sizes aren't keeping up with smartphones.

It's also arguably more of a men's issue, simply because women's pockets - by design - tend to be rather useless. Christian Dior is rumoured to have once said: "Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration."

And so women carry purses - some of which, helpfully enough, come with built-in phone compartments.

But for men, the ever-growing smartphone is proving too big for some britches.

Take the recent launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, for example. When Apple unveiled its largest iPhone to date, one of the foremost questions on people's minds was: Will it fit in my pocket?

Tech websites were quick to offer help. Some created "print and cut out" size tests, while others took videos of reporters trying to slip iPhone models in and out of their trousers.

Clothing labels, meanwhile, saw the pocket problem as a design opportunity. Some major brands - including Uniqlo and Levi's - have hinted that they are looking to make their apparel more compatible with larger phones.

But the kookiest response thus far has come from two telcos. China Unicom and KPN in the Netherlands have hired tailors, stationed outside Apple stores, to enlarge the pants pockets of customers who buy the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.

I promise that's a true story; there is that much pant up demand for big pockets (pun very much intended).

Indeed, a Dockers spokesman has acknowledged that the iPhone 6 Plus, at over six inches long, is too colossal for the average pair of khakis.

And even if the gadget could fit into your pants, it's unlikely that you'd want to risk your shiny new device getting bent (as some poor sods have experienced).

Since smartphones are not going to get any smaller - at least that's the consensus among analysts and industry players - the prevailing assumption is that pockets must get bigger.

But pockets don't necessarily need to swell in size. Instead, pockets - as well as fashion norms - need to be reimagined.

For instance, can we accept cargo pants or overalls as appropriate office wear? Mid-thigh side pockets or front-facing chest pockets could do the trick - but only if we rewrite some of fashion's dos and don'ts.

With formal wear, for instance, would dress pants with a side pocket fly? Just imagine a world leader striding into the next International Monetary Fund meeting in such a get-up.

The very thought is likely to cue peals of laughter, but it might actually work - as long as the pockets are discreet and well tailored.

A Kickstarter campaign has already made some headway in this regard. A crowdfunded company, I/O Denim, has raised over US$12,000 to make premium jeans that feature a dedicated - and hardly noticeable - smartphone pocket. It's located on the side of one's left thigh - between the knee and hip - and follows the outer side seam.

Dubbed by grateful buyers as iPants, it's clear that the denim, which retails for US$115 per pair, has struck a chord with buyers.

If it can be done with casual garb, I don't see why such smartypants can't be reworked for office wear, or for a suit.

It wouldn't be the first time that pockets are adapted to meet a new need. Think of coin pockets - the one that sits inside the right front pocket, also known as the fifth pocket. Originally known as watch pockets, these first appeared in the late 19th century and enabled men to keep their pocket watches - and later, coins - safe.

Perhaps another kind of restructuring is in order, this time of pants. Sartorial and cultural changes would do better to keep pace with technological ones.

After all, no one wants to be greeted with: "Is that a phone in your front pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"


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