What makes a dress great? Pockets. What makes a pair of pants infuriating? Fake pockets. And who do pockets affect the most? Boyfriends whose girlfriends “don’t want to carry a purse.” But that’s an issue for another day.
Today, we’re figuring out why most pairs of denim jeans have that tiny, useless pocket situated above one of their normal-sized, usable pockets. And the answer is: Manufacturers are sentimental.
You know the pocket. It’s not really a pocket, since you can’t put anything in it -- like, barely even a single quarter -- and you don’t quite notice it, since it’s such an accepted part of the design of your jeans.
However, Levi’s insists that plenty of things fit in the pocket, since it’s been used to carry tickets, matches, coins and, yup -- condoms. But the one thing that could definitely (in theory, since the practice is so old) fit in that tiny pocket? A pocket watch. The original version of blue jeans (then called “waist overalls”), designed by Levi’s in 1873, included the watch pocket to appeal to the cowboy demographic -- these guys needed a safe, handy way to keep the time while they rode around their ranches on horseback.
It wasn’t only cowboys that used the pocket watches, but they were the best customers for the jeans. Upper-class men who often wore suits used watch pockets sewn into their jackets to hold their timepieces.
Also, original jeans only had four pockets, which means they were down one back pocket. The watch pockets used to be at least 4 inches wide, which makes it a little more believable that even though we can barely fit our pinky fingers in there, cowboys were easily grabbing their pocket watches out of them. Nowadays, they barely meet 3 inches.
Around the middle of World War I, though, people stopped using pocket watches when wristwatches came out. Soldiers couldn’t be digging around their teeny tiny pockets to quickly tell the time. Of course, it just spiraled from there -- now you’re lucky if you can fit your iPhone X+ into your back pocket.
The watch pocket only exists today because Levi’s simply hasn’t changed their design; the brand is nostalgic for the good ol’ days.
“The watch pocket was an original element of our blue jeans, like the rivets on our pockets, button fly, arched back pocket stitching and leather patch,” Levi’s in-house historian Tracey Panek told Insider. “To preserve the integrity of the early design, Levi Strauss & Co. maintains the watch pocket.”
So, nowadays it’s just kind of...there. But, hey, maybe keep a pair of Levi’s around in case you need to hide an engagement ring or sneak something past a friend. At least you know no one will check that pocket.