We’ve just spent the day wandering around beautiful temples in Bangkok, Thailand, and, after seeing numerous signs warning against pickpockets today, am glad to say that I’ve arrived back at the hotel with my wallet, which I’ve been carrying in a hard-to-reach part of my bag all day.
It’s always been a source of frustration to me that most women’s clothes, including even business trousers, don’t have pockets. Jeans are often the only clothes that reliably have pockets (even then, not all do), but most women’s wallets are too large to fit in a pocket anyway.
I remember my Dad always throwing change he received into the compartment at the front of his car – ‘shrapnel‘ he’d call it – fragments of metal that noone really wants.
It wasn’t until some time later that I realised why he found coins so inconvenient. The wallets he bought, like most men’s wallets, either had exceedingly small coin compartments, or none at all.
So why don’t (most) women’s business trousers have pockets?
‘The great gendered pocket divide is real, and it did not happen by accident. As Christian Dior is reported to have said in 1954: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”‘ Ariana Tobin states on Marketplace.org. This explains why many of the business suits I had for work had those infuriating false pockets stitched on to them which cannot be opened or used.
According to Ariana, women’s dresses had substantial pockets in the 1700s, but in the 1800s, when European fashions became sleeker, they disappeared: ‘Well-to-do women weren’t supposed to need their hands for labor, and carrying money just wasn’t supposed to be a wife’s concern. In Burman’s words, “the frustrations and limitations of women’s access to money and ownership of property were neatly mirrored in the restricted scope of their pockets.”‘ she cites. Meanwhile, men’s clothing had more pockets than ever.
In the 1900s, with the war movement and more women engaging in paid work outside the home, practicality was more important than fashion. But this did not last: ‘In the words of a Vogue editor in 1939, slacks had to be: “‘Not necessarily tailored like a man’s—after all, your figure isn’t the same. […] In the early, experimental days, slacks too often were accompanied by too mannish accessories.”‘ Like pockets.
And why don’t (most) men’s wallets have coin compartments?
Debbie Davis writes that ‘This observation is often made by women when looking for a wallet as a gift for their husband/boyfriend/father/brother etc. as when choosing a purse for themselves or another woman, the size of the coin compartment is usually the most important consideration.’ The reason, she says, is simple: ‘Whereas women tend to keep their purse in a handbag, men usually tuck their wallet in a trouser, shirt or jacket pocket and carrying lots of coins in a wallet make it bulky, heavy and uncomfortable to keep in a pocket.’ Thus, Debbie recommends steering clear of coin compartments if buying a wallet as a gift for a man.
Do these trends change our relationship to money?
One poster on Yahoo Answers writes that ‘It’s kind of a girly thing to have a coin compartment. Just throw your coins in your pockets if your really gonna need 15 cents for something’.
Another states ‘I suppose it might be feminine to unzip something and dig around for coins, although it seems to be more of a practicality factor for me. Pockets are easier to access, and coins aren’t really something I’d be too worried about losing.’
Why having a coin compartment or digging around for coins should be considered ‘girly‘ (a word which now means ‘ ‘ but originally meant ‘displaying nude or scantily clad women’) or ‘feminine‘ is unclear. (Unless of course the reason a woman is using a wallet rather than pockets is due to her scanty dress!). There certainly is nothing intrinsically female about coin wallets, which have been used by many different people throughout history, regardless of gender.
But it’s interesting to analyse the language of these statements not just for what they say about gender, but for what they say about money attitudes:
‘If you’re really gonna need 15 cents for something’ implies that coins can’t be worth much, even collectively, and are unlikely to be necessary. ‘Coins aren’t really something I’d be too worried about losing’ echoes a similar sentiment, suggesting that coins are next to valueless.
What range of coins do you have?
To some extent, I believe that the currency you use may affect how you perceive coins. In Australia, 5c is the lowest value and $2 the highest value coin we have (confusingly, it’s smaller in size than the $1 coin…). In the US, the lowest is 1c and the highest just $1.
I first really noticed the potential value of coins when I was in Japan, and had collected a lot of coins dutifully in the expandable coin compartment of my new wallet. It was much easier to pay with larger notes, rather than trying to work out the exact amount with coins, so I soon accumulated quite a few. Going through my wallet one day, once the coin compartment was stretched to the max, I realised that I had quite a lot of money in coins – silver coins at that – ones which my brain was trained to think were worth less than the gold ones, since that’s what I was used to. (In Japan, only the 5 yen – the second lowest value coin – is gold).
Just four 500 yen coins add up to 2000 yen – worth about AUD$25 at the time – a considerable amount. Four coins of the highest denomination available in my home country would have added up to AUD$8 – not insubstantial, but a third of the amount. Here in Thailand, where I’m struggling with currency conversion in my head, the highest denomination coin is 10 baht – about AUD 35c. A lot less than four 500 yen coins.
So, do women’s wallets have coin compartments because they’re expected to have less money, and therefore, hold on to their coins? Or do women use coin compartments because they’re available?
Do men’s wallets lack coin compartments because they’re expected to deal in notes? Or do men deal in notes because they don’t have coin compartments available?
Regardless, I wonder whether different types and sizes of wallets might not be a good idea depending on your local currency.
And what do women’s pockets and men’s wallets have in common? They both generally lack somewhere to store your coins – even though coins can be very valuable, and save you a lot.
Do your fashion choices prioritise style or practicality? Do your pants have pockets? Does your wallet have a coin compartment?
Do you see coins as valuable, or as an inconvenience?
Today’s featured image depicts some of the Thai bhat I received as change today – and dutifully stored in my wallet’s large coin compartment!