Pockets and Lesbians

Cabinet Card c. 1890, collection of Catharine Smith

In “Idle Hands and Empty Pockets,” published in Volume 35 of Dress,  historian Hannah Carlson discusses the gender-bending power of hands in the pockets.  In the eighteenth century, for example, a man with his hands in his pockets projected a certain air of effeminacy to his contemporaries.  Conversely, when women cross-dressed (as in the photo above), they stuck their hands deep into their trouser pockets to signify masculinity.  This makes sense when we remember that women didn’t really have pockets in which they could rest their hands until the mid-20th century.

I just want to note that the women in the photograph above were probably not lesbians.  Female cross-dressing was largely separate from Victorian ideas about sexuality.

I think we still read pocketed hands as masculine, even though women have been wearing pants for over fifty years now.  Interesting, huh?

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