Sunday, April 20, 2008

Digging deeply into pockets: A thought experiment

In a recent Styleforum thread, I was struck by this statement regarding the chest pocket on jackets: “A human chest is curved, a suit has curvature in the chest, so anything applied to the chest [e.g. a chest pocket] needs to be curved as well.” The idea is intriguing due to its literalist, quasi-Lamarckian overtones. If the human body is curved in certain places, then our clothing should effectively mimic that curvature. It seems intuitively sound and well-stated but is it?

Let's test this claim against a larger sample of shirt, jacket and pants pockets and see if there is a necessary relationship with the matching part of the body.

Shirt pockets --> Chest (usually curved)
In reality, we see a panoply of pocket shapes – straight, angled, curved/multi-angled/multi-curved (Western shirts). But according to the literalist argument, the chest pocket should follow the actual chest and hence be curved. So are all of these possible pocket styles (except the curved one) misshapen, evolutionary dead ends? No, the answer is that they all look perfectly fine depending on the shirt style.

Side pockets on jackets --> Side abdomen (usually curved)
Quite a variety of pocket styles here – straight, angled (hacking) or curved (crescent). However, on most jackets, side pockets are straight. Again, no compelling reason why side pockets must be crescent shaped to conform to the contour of the abdomen.

Rear trouser pockets --> Posterior (usually curved, but can be flat :-)
Less pocket variety here esp. for dress trousers – mostly straight pockets but very few if any curved ones. This is the acid test because the presumed relation between body and pocket shape is weakest here. I doubt many men would like a pair of smiling pockets decorating their posterior. But if straight back pockets look lifeless or nearly extinct to you, feel free to punctuate and mix things up! There is goodness in experimentation and evolution.

However, the claim about curved pockets confuses a basic distinction in clothing: fit v. styling. Fit is fairly objective, styling much less so. Rigidly insisting on a universal rule for pocket shapes leads to some odd, humorous and doctrinaire outcomes. I prefer to keep things flexible: Pockets depend more on the particularities of the intended style of clothing in question than on the underlying anatomy.


angrymachao said...

IMHO, I believe this revolves around the ol' fit vs. silhouette argument once again. Except it isn't really.

Men have myriad forms and sizes, however, isn't the most exclusive of bespoke menswear a uniform of sorts? If one were to follow the slightly ridiculous notion of "curve against curve", I humbly foresee that one would look like a Coke bottle.

Hardly an evolutionary look Cary Grant or Marcello Mastroianni would approve of.

Perhaps the statement was one based on the philosophy regarding the strength and grace of a torrent of water flowing downstream?

sleevehead said...

As you allude to in your last sentence, there is something in the curve against idea that seems to be appealing - perhaps you're right, it's the belief in the organic shapes and forms. Even so, I'm finding that the number of true, universal "rules" in men's clothing are few and far between.