Shirt Pockets

18

Skyfall-Printed-Sports-Shirt

Pockets are a common feature on shirts, but what shirts should have pockets? A true dress shirt—a shirt for black tie, white tie or morning dress—should never have a pocket, but on the other hand, pockets are always appropriate on sports shirts and work shirts. What about formal shirts (called dress shirts in the US) with pockets? Pockets generally make a shirt less dressy, so should the shirts you wear with your suits and sports coats have pockets? Most formal shirts in the US have a left breast pocket whilst most formal shirts in the UK do not. Formal shirts in the UK are typically dressier than their American counterparts in many other ways: poplin versus pinpoint, double cuffs versus button cuffs, spread and cutaway collars versus point and button-down collars. In the UK, a shirt with double cuffs never has a pocket, though some makers put pockets on their button-cuff shirts.

An unsightly pocket peaking out from under Timothy Dalton's suit in Licence to Kill
An unsightly pocket peaking out from under Timothy Dalton’s suit jacket in Licence to Kill

James Bond almost never wears pockets on his formal shirts, with the exception being two of the worst shirts Bond has ever worn in Licence to Kill. These shirts have the standard single American oversized, open patch pocket with a pointed bottom. Since the film was made in Mexico and Florida, the shirts were more than likely sourced in America. Most Americans are used to pockets on all formal shirts, so much that I witnessed a man returning a shirt he thought was defective because it did not have a pocket. If a man is wearing a suit or a jacket, the pockets in the jacket are there to be used. If a man is not wearing a suit or jacket, a sports shirt is usually appropriate. Formal shirts with pockets are most useful for the man who does not wear a jacket in the office, though there are more elegant ways to carry things away from one’s desk. Unlike a structured jacket, a shirt has no support for anything in the pocket. Anything heavier than a couple pieces of paper in a shirt pocket ruins the lines of the shirt.

For-Your-Eyes-Only-Yellow-Sports-Shirt
A single pocket on Roger Moore’s Frank Foster sport shirt in For Your Eyes Only

Pockets are at home on sport shirts, and James Bond has worn many sports shirts with pockets. Sean Connery’s many short-sleeve camp shirts in Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, Pierce Brosnan’s two camp shirts in Die Another Day and Daniel Craig’s floral shirt in Casino Royale all have on the left side of the chest a small open breast pocket with rounded bottom corners. Roger Moore’s short-sleeve shirts in For Your Eyes Only made by Frank Foster similarly have open patch pockets on the left, but his have mitred bottom corners. These pockets are all correctly sized to the proportions of the body and drape neatly on the chest. Roger Moore also wears a blue long-sleeve Frank Foster sports shirt (auctioned at Prop Store) under his gilet in For Your Eyes Only that has a mitred patch pocket that matches the mitred shirt cuffs. In Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig’s polo shirts each have a small patch pocket on the left.

A pocket on Daniel Craig's Sunspel polo in Casino Royale
A pocket on Daniel Craig’s Sunspel polo in Casino Royale

The sportiest of sports shirts—as well as work shirts and military shirts—have a patch pocket on both sides with a flap and button, and often a box pleat. Many of Bond shirts have this pocket style, like the terrycloth shirt in Diamonds Are Forever, a number of the shirts in Licence to Kill and the printed shirt in Skyfall (pictured top) have two breast pockets.

18 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t see what the purpose of a shirt pocket should be. What are you supposed to put in a shirt pocket? It simply makes a formal shirt look less fine especially if such a shirt has double cuffs – a “sartorial oxymoron” as Alan Flusser would say. Carrying a pen or a paper in one’s breast pocket always means bad taste. On a casual shirt with short sleeves a breast pocket is O.K. although not a must.

    • If you travel a lot going though hot airports and cities the shirt pocket is ideal for the boarding pass or the hotel key card. Both very light so they do not deform the pocket and the items a easily to hand. I found them essential.

  2. If you’re wearing a suit or a jacket, your shirt pocket is more secure than the jacket’s outer pockets (an issue while traveling) and easier of access than the jacket’s inside pockets or the trouser pockets, particularly when sitting down.

    To get philosophical, I think the difference between American and British approaches is that there is less of a distinction between “work” clothing and “social” clothing in the US. The suit you wear to work can be the suit you wear to dinner, and the same goes for the shirt.

  3. Shirt pockets are a handy place to put glasses, but I only need that if I’m not wearing a jacket, so I really have no need for pockets on dress shirts, just casual ones.

  4. To begin, I can’t imagine wearing a dress or whatever-it’s-supposed-to-be-called shirt without a left chest pocket. My biggest reason is for boarding passes — and I’m not a frequent flyer. My other reasons are pens, other tickets, scratch paper, coat checks…and the list goes on. Last bit of disclosure is that I’m an American, born in 1967, so I’m used to the American ways. But, more than that, the idea that pockets on shirts are somehow “against the rules” reminds me of the great Winston Churchill quote about prepositions, which goes, more or less, “that is the sort of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put.” If the realm of men’s fashion won’t find a place for shirt pockets, trouser pleats and clothes that fit, then that world can go take a flying leap.

  5. I think that there are two relevant questions here:

    1. Can a pocket make a shirt look worse than if there was no pocket?

    2. Can a pocket improve the look of a shirt?

    In my opinion the answer to 1. is ‘Yes’, whilst the answer to 2. is ‘No’. Therefore why bother with a pocket on any shirt?

  6. In America, I think the “dress shirt” pocket came into being primarily to hold a pack of cigarettes. Think of the Don Draper character with his Lucky Strikes dangling in his shirt pocket. That was a very common look for much of the 20th Century in the US. I can remember my grandfather sporting the same look well into the 1980’s.

  7. The answer to joshgtv’s question is utility or practicality, which I believe is the origin of most, if not all, of men’s fashions. Come on, tell me I’m right, Matt! I concede joshgtv’s point, but only if one considers aesthetics alone.

    • Shirt pockets are indeed practical, but I don’t see any benefit if one is wearing a jacket. Jacket pockets are larger and have support. I find that items in shirt pockets are uncomfortable.

  8. You’re right on British shirts and pockets – one would never wear a tie with a shirt that has a pocket. I have a shirt with a breast pocket, and it’s my “Friday casual” shirt – worn without a tie.
    I cringe at the sartorial inelegance of those who wear shirt pockets formally.

  9. Interesting debate.

    I’ve had my own experience of this topic and the different experience of British and US based shirt makers. With Frank Foster I have to specifically request a pocket if he’s making me a sports shirt as, otherwise, the default is a clean, pocket free chest. This is what I would always order for a regular (dress) shirt. On the other hand, when I ordered a couple of (dress) shirts from Hemrajani (who made Matt’s shirts which he wrote about previously on the blog and which were produced with Bond inspired elements) they arrived with a breast pocket which I’d never requested and I had to return them to have these removed. It surprised me to learn then that breast pockets are the US default.

    Anyway, for me it comes down to this. I don’t understand at all why anyone would want to place any items in the breast pocket of a shirt; receipts, tickets, pens, cigarette packets…whatever. To me this is, how can I phrase this diplomatically, not consistent with smart dress. I mean, can one imagine Connery, Moore or Brosnan’s Bond ever doing such a thing? Now, while I can accept that, on the face of it, the purpose of a pocket in the normal course of events, is to place items in, in the case of shirts, it’s an appendage which is entirely superfluous except for reasons of aesthetics. In conclusion, while they may enhance the look of a sports/short sleeve shirt (such as those we saw Connery and Moore wear), conversely, they detract entirely from the clean appearance of a dress shirt.

  10. I think that shirts for the suits ,with shirt pocket are in America mostly a post WW-II thing.
    Before the war,in 20s and 30s only sport shirts had pockets.
    If you see a movie from the golden age of Hollywood you not see pockets on the dress shirts.
    Is said that for the most the Brooks Brothers shirts (also button down) usually had not pocket,untill early-mid 50s.
    Si this custom is for the most a “Americana mid XX century” thing.

  11. My button-down collar (mostly oxford or pinpoint) or short sleeve sport shirts always have a breast pocket. To do otherwise seems incomplete. Apart from that, I always get shirts without a breast pocket whenever possible.

    As for phones and stuff weighing them down… well, don’t put something heavy in a shirt pocket. Simple as that. The most I ever use them for are pens or paper.

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