Alligator Arms and High Pockets

I have a pair of moleskin jeans. They are a wonderful garment, even better for having been on deep discount when I got them. Alas, they do have one flaw. Their pockets are long rather than deep. I can carry a pocket knife, barely, or a stick of lip balm, but nothing deeper. The front of the pocket extends almost an inch and a half farther to the front than on normal jeans. No, I have no idea what the designer was thinking, but I know it wasn’t about “things people carry in jeans pockets.”

Which led to my thinking about phrases associated with pockets – deep pockets, high pockets, alligator arms . . .

We all know that deep pockets means someone is generous, or just rich. I have, however, heard it used when the phrase dripped with so much sarcasm that you could almost see the stuff. The speaker aimed it at someone who refused to chip in to help a third party in serious need. The non-donor was a lot better off than the rest of us, and was known for bragging about his charity. (He wasn’t well regarded to begin with, and this was the final straw for several people.)

“High Pockets” was a nickname for really tall kids (and adults) back when I was growing up, especially for people who were more leg than torso.

I don’t know if many young people outside the South were familiar with “alligator arms” before the Geico commercial a few years back. The term refers to someone who just can’t quite reach into his pocket when the bill arrives, and so everyone else has to pick up the tab.

Pockets began as external pouches, often attached to a sash worn around the waist. So when “Lucy Locket lost her pocket,” it referred to a cloth bag on a belt. Eventually, the pocket became a pouch of fabric attached to the seam of a skirt or tunic. My neo-Victorian dresses and skirts have pockets of this type. You don’t want to put very heavy things in there (although, I’ve tested them a few times and they survived.)


15 thoughts on “Alligator Arms and High Pockets

  1. A lady friend of mine has been known to rant quite eloquently on the absence of pockets in many forms of women’s clothing. And the lack of pockets on futuristic SF clothing is even its very own trope on TVTropes.

    For myself, I have so many things I need or want to carry that I refuse to wear a jacket that doesn’t have multiple pockets. Last time I went looking for a light sweatshirt-jacket, I was shocked that I couldn’t find one that has an inside pocket for a cellphone. Everyone these days has a cellphone. What numbwit would make a jacket, even a cheap one, without an inside pocket for your cellphone?

    • One of my prized possessions is a “Members Only” jacket.

      In spite of the (decades old) fashionable connotations, the reason I love it is that it’s a windbreaker with decent water resistance that dries easily and has two inner chest pockets, an external heart pocket, and two normal hand-pockets.

    • In my entire life I’ve owned one garment that had an inside pocket. Being that it’s a silver armor nylon riding jacket with hard plates, it’s not something I wear every day. And of course the pocket is on the left, for the convenience of right-handers.

      Until I got that jacket, inside pockets were just a movie thing that didn’t exist in Real Life(tm).

      One thing that seems to be going away in men’s clothing is the watch pocket. I used that for my motorcycle key, so I didn’t have to fish if from a deep pocket, or have my keyring damage the finish around the ignition switch.

      Men’s pants also seem to be losing the left rear pocket, so you can carry a handkerchief *or* a wallet, but not both.

      Now that phones are so large, lots of people are discovering something the “pocket carry” gun owners have known for ages – pockets are often sewn in at odd angles so they don’t hang straight, and they are sometimes shallow, or tapered toward the bottom. The bottoms can be square (yay!), cut at a slight angle (acceptable) or cut at a sharp angle (bad.) And way too many are sewn into a curved slice-of-liver shape, and while large, the odd shape limits their usefulness.

      Fortunately, even sewing incompetents like myself can butcher a better shape onto a pocket; it’s not something someone ordinarily sees. But if I were ever to become wealthy enough to buy bespoke clothing, I’d definitely have a talk about pockets with my tailor…

  2. That sounds like the 70’s-80’s designer jeans, with pockets as useless ‘fashion feature’. Garment cut meant that pockets were embroidered patches or decorative lines. You had to go down scale to declasse’ working garments, to get working pockets and enough trouser fabric to use them. For jeans, their replacement time should be based on how pale and thin the pocket material gets, unless the knees go first, all dependent on ability to patch. <>

    The fad of heavily shredded and ripped jeans needs to get returned to its ’80s dumpster. It’s cold, and you can count the girl’s coverage as about two dozen uncut threads, visible in high contrast on the cold, red skin beneath. “Dressing just like Grandma, dearie?” might be the best mockery to use.

    • I’m wearing bib overalls (hey, we’re country and the critters don’t mind my fashion sense) with more pockets than normal. The right hand deep pocket is big enough to let me carry a full-sized flashlight when I take the dogs out to the kennel at night, so I don’t have to use the pockets in my jacket. I haven’t used a pocket watch in years, and the flip phone is a bit big for that pocket, but the bib pockets are useful.

  3. I’ve been given the explanation that women’s clothes don’t have pockets because they add bulk to the hips which women don’t want and also ruin the line of the dress, skirt or pants. I say, give me pockets anyway.

    • I once saw a wonderful letter to JAMA (back when they were a reputable medical publication) from a lady doctor in reference to an article about Freud and psychiatry. The letter said, “Dear sirs, Freud was wrong. It is pocket envy. Sincerely [doctor name].”

  4. Wranglers and Levis for the win… At least their pockets are deep enough/strong enough to hold ‘stuff’… And the ‘pockets’ on women’s pants are… interesting some times!

  5. Many pockets, especially on women’s clothing, seem to be designed as ‘fashion features’, meaning you are not actually supposed to put anything in them even if they appear functional.

    When I designed my 16th-century clothing I put pocket slits in the sides of the skirt and made *large* in-seam pockets in the sides of the petticoat underneath. I could carry a lot of stuff in those pockets with the advantage that *nothing* (at least nothing smaller than a donkey đŸ˜‰ would show on the outside.

  6. Fashion designers would have dramatically shortened “The Hobbit.”

    “What have I got in my pocket?”

    ” ‘ss, ‘ss, mussst give us a chance, now!”
    Gollum leaned closer, eyey glowing lamp-like in the abyssal gloom, then whistled like a teapot in rage.

    “The Precious! It’ss got My Preciousss! Thief, thief!”

  7. I looooooooooove pockets. Vests with pockets, pants with pockets, shirts with pockets, coats and jackets with pockets… No hats with pockets, though. I have a pocket watch, but don’t usually carry it. I have to have a knife or two or three in them pockets….

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