The Empire State Building. The Golden Gate Bridge. Boston’s Big Dig. These engineering feats are nothing short of spectacular. However, none of these landmarks can match the popularity and practicality of one of the 20th Century’s most distinctive inventions: the pocket protector.
The pocket protector was invented in 1965 in response to a growing number of lawsuits brought against shirt manufacturers falsely claiming to produce “stain resistant” shirts. In an effort to thwart this problem and in turn save the industry, the National Association of Pocketed Shirt Makers (NAPSM) set out to find a solution.
According to Jim Blouseman, then President of NAPSM, several ideas were tested. “We initially tested out a tin pocket trough,” said Blouseman. “However, when tipped upside down, such as when bending over, the trough emptied downward, creating an even messier situation. In addition, the pens ‘clinked’ with even the slightest jostling, such as walking.” NAPSM eventually settled on a vinyl device designed to be inserted into the pocket: the pocket protector.
This invention quickly gained popularity amongst industry professionals seeking prestige by the number of writing/drawing utensils they carry, such as engineers, architects, and mathematicians. The craze eventually spread to Europe in the mid 1970s, as the pocket protector appeared in several of famous Italian designer Valentino’s Fall collections.
The pocket protector continued its integration into pop culture in the 1980s, becoming the subject of Andy Wargol’s “Ten Protectors” painting and a postage stamp. Available in a wide range of colors, American youth viewed the pocket protector as an accessory to large belts, leg warmers, stonewashed denim jeans, and enormous hoop earrings.
Unfortunately, 1980’s pop culture proved to be the downfall of the pocket protector as well. Movies such as “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Nerds in Paradise,” “Nerds: The Next Generation,” and “Nerds in Love” attached a negative stigma to this once staple of Paris couture.
Sadly, today annual pocket protector sales are roughly 80% less than at their peak in 1976. Though many writing utensils have been replaced with keyboards and palm pilots, pens are still commonly used to sign documents, and therefore, require pocket protection.
Unless we band together today, this important piece of pop culture may be lost forever and our shirts never the same again. Please send in the enclosed response card for your free ATI pocket protector and do your part in helping to…