What is a Pocket Protector?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 02 January 2020
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A pocket protector is a small polyvinyl pouch which fits neatly into a front shirt pocket to protect the wearer from leaky pens or sharp instruments. Unfortunately for some and fortunately for others, a pocket protector has also become an icon of nerdiness, much like thick Buddy Hollyesque eyeglasses and ill-fitting plaid pants. It is not unusual to see a pocket protector double as a badge holder or logo for a company. Many engineers and other technicians still wear some form of pocket protector as a show of pride in their perceived geekiness.

The pocket protector actually grew out of a real necessity. Before the advent of ballpoint pens, many people carried fountain pens with ink cartridges or wells. These pens would leak through an unprotected shirt pocket in seconds, creating an unsightly mess. Other instruments, such as slide rules, pencils and rulers, would tend to poke holes in the fabric over time. In 1947, a manufacturer in Chicago created the first pocket protector out of a polyvinyl chloride material. The plastic insert formed an impenetrable barrier in the wearer's pocket, while the front flap served as free advertising for the company.


Over time, however, the popularity of the pocket protector began to wane. Ballpoint pens replaced the messy fountain varieties, reducing the incidents of staining. Fewer people had a need to clip a number of pens or instruments to their front pockets, except for engineers and others who still shuttled between their offices and the field. Meanwhile, society began to associate the pocket protector with a nerd subculture, making it an unacceptable fashion accessory for many people.

Despite their declining popularity, quality pocket protectors can still be obtained through online catalogs, office supply stores and novelty gift stores. There are generally three different styles available: the stealth, the badge holder and the full frontal. A stealth pocket protector fits squarely inside the pocket with no overhang, making it virtually invisible. The badge holder contains a clear pocket which can hold a company ID or other identifying document. For those who aren't afraid to let their geek flag fly, the full frontal pocket protector can be customized with a company logo or other design.


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