A Spotter’s Guide To Suit Pockets (& Their History)

Just like men’s designer suits, men’s pockets come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you favour jetted, welt or flap, use our helpful guide and you’ll be able to spot each and every one in the wild.

The History Of Suit Pockets

The history of men’s suits pockets is closely linked with that of the pocket itself. Way back when, before tailors and dressmakers had dreamed them up, pockets existed as small bags, pouches and purses that affixed to the inside or outside of your clothing rather than sewn into garments. Though practical to some degree, they were also less secure, and people began to tuck their bags into their shirts or breeches to conceal them. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century, though, that someone had the bright idea to add them, ready-made, to trousers and jackets and thus the pocket was born.

Types Of Suit Pockets

Unless you’ve spent your career or schooling immersed in the world of tailoring, you probably haven’t given much thought to the types of pockets on your suit – even if you use them every single day. But they don’t just serve a practical purpose. Pockets, especially suit pockets, are an important indicator of formality, style and taste and they come in a variety of different forms, from welted and jetted to flap and patch. Read on to discover more about the most commonly used pockets on men’s suits.

What Is A Welt Or Jetted Pocket?

A welt pocket, which is today commonly used interchangeably with the term jetted pocket, is characterised as a slit in the fabric of the suit jacket, typically with a slim band (a welt) or piping sewn (a piped pocket) along the edges of the opening to reinforce and neaten the appearance of the suit pocket. Given its concealed nature, clean lines and the fact it does not interrupt the silhouette of the suit, this type of pocket is most typically seen on the most formal type of suits, namely tuxedos, waistcoats and dinner jackets. But that wasn’t always the case – back in the nineteenth century, when they started to rise in popularity, they could be found on all manner of menswear.

What Is A Flap Pocket?

As its name suggests, a flap pocket is a men’s suit pocket with the addition of a small (usually) rectangular flap that covers the opening – it’s thought they developed in menswear as a means of protecting the items you’ve stowed in your pocket from theft, falling out or getting wet. Today, flap pockets are by and large the most common type of pocket that you’ll find on a smart suit jacket or blazer. While they can be entirely functional if needs be, it’s much more common to keep personal items in your inside pocket or coat pocket rather than in flap pockets to avoid creating lumps and bumps in the sharp silhouette or put stress on the fine fabric.

What Is A Patch Pocket?

It’s thought that patch pockets originated when men began asking their tailors to add additional storage to their sport’s coats (a name once used to refer to men’s designer suit jackets and blazers on the more informal side). They’re constructed by adding extra fabric to the outside of the garment. While a suit is not the only place you’ll spot a patch pocket – think the back pocket of jeans, for example – on tailoring, they’re most often used on less formal, unstructured styles and, in particular, summer blazers. They tend to have a rounded bottom and are open at the top but there are variations that include a flap on the top, such as cargo pockets or bellows pockets.

What Is A Breast Pocket?

The origin of the breast pocket is a little cloudy, but it’s thought it was considered a cleaner and more convenient place to store items like a handkerchief – and its function has not changed today, where it usually holds a pocket square or the like. It may not seem like it, but a well-made breast pocket on a suit is one of the trickier things a tailor has to achieve. Not least because it’s difficult to construct something that has to adhere to the contours of your torso without gaping or sitting awkwardly. Types of breast pockets on suit jackets vary. In Italian and Neapolitan tailoring, for example, they favour a variation called a “barchetta” pocket – literally “little boat” – which curves upwards like the bow of a sailboat.

What Is A Bellows Pocket?

Otherwise known as gusset pockets, you’re most likely to see bellows pockets on military (or military-inspired) tailoring – and field-style jackets in particular. Practicality is their main purpose. Applied to garments rather than built in (like a welt pocket), and with pleats at the sides or sometimes through the front, they are designed to lie flat when in use and expand when items are placed inside. Most typically, you’ll spot them on cargo-style trousers, sportswear and workwear, but they can add a retro touch to more formal tailoring and were especially popular in the 1970s. As a rule though, unless you’re commissioning custom suits, they are still a fairly rare sight.

What Is A Suit Ticket Pocket?

A suit ticket pocket is, as its name rather gives a way, a place to store your train ticket, loose change or something you need to be able to reach quickly. Smaller and placed several inches above your right hip pocket, they’re a rarer and rarer sight on men’s suits these days, but back when men first began commuting into cities thanks to the new introduction of the railways, they were a standard on business suits. In fact, the origins of the suit ticket pocket stretch back even further – when it was used to stow coins to pay tolls while riding without having to unbutton your jacket.

What Is An Inside Pocket?

Used interchangeably with inner pocket, an inside pocket is one of those ‘does what it says on the tin’ terms. But don’t underestimate their usefulness – Paul, for example, always carries a notebook and pen as well as his glasses and phone in his inside suit pocket. Designed to hold bulkier items without disrupting the clean, sharp lines of your suit jacket or blazer, they’re the perfect place to stow your essentials. But keep it within reason, overloading your suit pockets can cause the fabric to stretch and become misshapen over time, especially if the material is particularly fine.

Which Suit Pocket Should You Choose?

As with many suit-related questions, it all depends on the level of formality. Welt or jetted pockets are generally considered the most formal type of pocket, while patch and bellows would sit at the opposite, more casual side of the spectrum. Flap pockets are far and away the most common types of pockets seen on men’s business suits. If you’re looking for something more custom, or have specific ideas about placement of your pockets, it’s worth considering a bespoke suits service, like Paul Smith’s, so you can control every element.

Why Are Suit Pockets Sewn Shut?

If you think the pockets on your suit are decorative, it’s worth taking a closer look. On good-quality tailoring, the pockets are usually basted shut with a simple single stitch to ensure they keep their shape while on the move in transit or on display in a shop. These are designed to be easily removed at home with a seam ripper or scissors. If you’re in doubt or worried about damaging the fabric, check in with your friendly local tailor or with one of our colleagues in Paul Smith shops.

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Published: 06.23

Words: Molly Isabella Smith