If you’ve ever been an avid jean wearer, you’ve probably discovered that the little, tiny pocket right above the front pocket on a pair of jeans doesn’t hold much, but it had a clear reason behind its creation. It’s just that we don’t use it for that reason today.
That small pocket originated back in the late 1800s with the first pair of jeans sold by Levi Strauss & Co, which they called “waist overalls.” The jeans debuted in 1879 with four pockets. Three pockets were on the front, one on the left and right, and the small pocket above the larger right pocket. The fourth pocket was on the back on the right. All the pockets were riveted since Levi Strauss & Co. and Jacob Davis had gotten a patent in 1873 for Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings. The rivets were there to make the pockets stronger. But why was there such a small pocket?
The reason for the little pocket was practical, at least during the time period. It was there to store and protect a pocket watch, especially for someone working. Suit pants didn’t have a small pocket because a suit jacket already had a pocket for a pocket watch.
The small pocket stayed on jeans for Levi Strauss even when a fifth pocket was added to the back left of the jeans in 1901. The original design with the small pocket has stayed the same since the debut of the jeans, except for one period during World War II when the rivets were removed to save metal for the war effort. The back pockets of Levi’s jeans did go through a transformation, however. In 1937, the rivets were concealed because of customer complaints about the copper points scratching saddles and wooden furniture. And in 1966, the rivets were removed because they were wearing through the denim.
The small pocket is not exclusive to Levi’s jeans and can be seen in all kinds of configurations on many brands of jeans today. The little pocket even appears on shorts. It may not be used for pocket watches anymore, but maybe someone has found a good alternative for it.