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The Fifth Pocket

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Coin Pocket - Image Courtesy of Denimhunters

Coin Pocket – Image Courtesy of Denimhunters

The Fifth Element Pocket

It all began in 1873, with the birth of the original blue jean by Levi Strauss & Co. Born with it was the fifth pocket (back then known as the fourth pocket as there was only one back pocket on a pair of jeans) or “coin pocket”.

But it wasn’t called the coin pocket then. It was actually the watch pocket. At the time pocket watches were all the rage, you would attach them to your coat or waist and keep the watch in your coat pocket – but with the Levi’s blue jean, you could stow it safely away in a far more secure and handy spot.

It was also reported that the pocket was commonly used to carry small nuggets of gold, as denim was favoured by miners due to its superior durability. The pocket was a lot wider then the ones we have today, decreasing over time with the changing fashion and fits.

In 1902 people began calling the fifth pocket the coin pocket. Jump to the present day and you’ll hear it being called the “condom pocket”, “ticket pocket” or “fob pocket” etc. So what is going on with this elusive tiny pocket? I asked friends, family, work colleagues and random people on the street (no, really) about how they used their fifth pocket.

The feedback was illuminating.

Most of the people I asked were scarcely aware that a fifth pocket even existed, let alone of its use. The others who did use the pocket admitted that they rarely used it to actually carry coins, but rather an array of things ranging from: lighters, matches, ticket stubs, toothpicks, chapsticks, wrappers, receipts, bottle openers, condoms, switchblades/swiss army knives, a house key or two, medication, rings, and finally: coins.

To me, that sounds like an ANYthing pocket, rather than a coin pocket.

Having said that, most of the people I talked to DID NOT use their fifth pocket for anything excluding gimmicky or accidental use (lost coins etc). Why is this, I wonder?

I believe it has everything to do with a change in perception of the fifth pocket.

Rather than making something that is strictly functional and discreet, brands often treat the fifth pocket as a place to make a statement or to experiment; to try something frontier and in an effort to stand apart from the rest. Examples include the super long and adversely shallow pockets, pockets with selvedge or with zippers closing the top, slanted pockets, and pockets that are decorated or embroidered with extra stitching or logos.

A pocket fashioned like this can be difficult to utilize because:

a) it’s too small or oddly shaped to fit items, or;

b) the pocket is not secure, causing the contents repeatedly eject themselves

I don’t mean to say that this is a bad thing per say. It’s certainly not the end of the world if you can’t keep some shrapnel in your tiny fifth pocket. This is just a theory into the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the use of the fifth pocket.

My jean of choice is a pair of Tellason Sheffields, a brand and style which could be said to be more workwear inspired than fashionably sharp or experimental. My fifth pocket is quite discreet, very narrow and very long; perfect for stashing Toonies or any other items on the above list – but not visually interesting to say the least.

The fate of the fifth pocket exists between the two tides of fashion and functionality. Some brands offer a more traditional rendition, while others attempt to stand out and make something a little more eye catching. How much it impacts on potential use, is a topic of some debate (this post I guess).

Whats Left? Choose your destiny!

– James Davidson