The fascinating history behind why jeans have that random tiny pocket

Tiny front pocket on denim pants, close up. - stock photo
That silly little pocket is actually steeped in history. Photo credit: Getty Images

Have you ever wondered what that piddly little pocket on your favourite pair of jeans is for? You know, the small square inside the side pocket that is even more inconveniently mini than those micro purses that cost a small fortune. 

Too small even for pocket change, these little squares have been a mainstay of classic Levi Strauss denim for decades. While its intended function isn't quite as relevant nowadays, that silly little pocket is steeped in history. 

According to reports, the design actually dates back to the 19th century and was added as a functional feature, rather than for aesthetics (or inconvenience).

Known as a 'watch pocket', it was designed as a holder for, you guessed it, pocket watches. Back then, people tended to wear their watch on a chain they could tuck in their clothes, as opposed to the blingy, bougie and bedazzled wrist styles we wear as accessories today.

Speaking to Insider, Levi Strauss & Co's inhouse historian Tracey Panek explained the watch pocket can in fact be traced back to the design for the oldest pair of waist overalls - the original name for the blue jeans made by Levi Strauss - in the company's archives, dated 1879.

"The watch pocket was a feature of our first waist overalls," Panek told Insider. "The oldest pair of waist overalls in the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives [from 1879] include the watch pocket."

The watch pockets also appear on the design in the patent Strauss and J.W. Davis received for 'Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings' on May 20, 1873, and were first put into mass use in 1890 with the 'Lot 501' jeans, the model for Levis 501 jeans today.

Somewhat confusingly however, pants with the tiny pocket are referred to as 'five-pocket pants' - but the tiny pocket isn't the fifth one. The fifth pocket is actually on the back-left, added to Levi's 501 jeans in 1901.

Of course, with phones all but glued to our hands these days, and the status symbol that wrist watches have become, people no longer have a use for pocket watches - making watch pockets pretty arbitrary. However, we continue to see the humble patch of denim on jeans of every brand - if not as a nod to the past, at least as somewhere to store very small things, like a singular coin, hair pin or maybe a condom. 

When it comes to Levi's at least, Panek told Insider the small pockets have remained a staple of the iconic jeans over the years to maintain the integrity of the original design.

"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," Panek said. "To preserve the integrity of the early design, Levi Strauss & Co. maintains the watch pocket."

The more you know.