Introduction: Add Secret Pockets to Undershirt
Whenever I travel to dodgy places I used to carry my valuables in a travel neck pouch under my shirt. The strap is uncomfortable and the package is bulky but it was better than hip or leg pouches. I decided I can find a better way to hide stuff by installing pockets on an undershirt. There are versions of this idea available online but I don’t like them for one reason or another. Some have only one pocket (or overlapping pockets), which would bulge when in use. One pocket doesn’t make sense given how much space there is all over the shirt. Others are real shirts with pockets on the chest area, which I doubt would look secret with a passport inside. The best ones have many pockets and are made of good material. But good material means they’re thicker and too warm to be used as undershirts in hot places. Good material also means expensive, and that’s enough to disqualify them for me.
I made this secret travel hiding accessory from an undershirt (2 for C$7) and scrap fabric in a couple of hours. My skills on a sewing machine are Chaplinesque and the results are usually shoddy, but it's enough to get rid of that neck pouch.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- A white undershirt. It’s not a tank top because it’s flimsy and it’s classified as underwear. But this one feels cool even with another shirt on top of it. I chose a youth size L so that it fits tight. I don’t want my valuables to be flopping around as I chase a train.
- An old white shirt (or scraps of white fabric). I actually thought about just folding up the hem of the undershirt then sewing vertical seams to form the pockets. That would have been an elegant solution mathematically speaking, but that would have made the project look like a sports bra. Some of you might want to go that way.
- Needle and some thread. I used white but I think thread of another colour would have been better. While undoing a stitch I accidentally put a hole on the undershirt because I couldn’t tell the sewing thread from the shirt material.
- Sewing machine. I could however imagine someone doing this completely with hand stitches.
Step 2: Prepare the Pieces
I decided on three pockets: one for the passport, another for credit cards, the third for cash. The passport pocket is the biggest and it went on my left side, the other two on the other. I considered putting on more pockets over the chest or even at the back but I didn’t need them.
I chose to cut from the bottom of the scrap shirt so that the hemmed part will serve as the opening of the pocket. That hem will provide enough thickness on the material to reduce the risk of things falling out. Also, it will provide a good hold for additional stitches and button holes.
To determine the size of the pocket material I placed an item just below the hemmed end of the fabric, added a ¼” allowance for the three sides where the stitches would go, then another ½” for the folds. After cutting the pieces from the old shirt, I ironed the folds flat.
Step 3: Sew on the Pockets
Before I used the machine to sew on the pockets I used small knots to anchor the pocket corners where I wanted them. I used the seam on the undershirt as a guide such that the middle of the pocket is lined up along the seam. The first anchor is where the bottom of the pocket meets the seam.
Once the pockets were fixed in place, I used the sewing machine. I just stitched (or tried to) a straight line ⅛” from the edge of the pocket. I didn’t bother removing the anchors.
Step 4: Make Pocket Openings Smaller
For the passport and credit card pockets, I made the openings smaller so that they will need to be stretched open when removing their contents. To determine the reduced width, I placed an item over the opening, stretched it a little, then made a mental note of how much I can reduce the opening. It turned out to be about ¼” inward from the original stitch. I just put on the required stitches by hand (circled in picture).
The cash pocket needed more work. Since paper bills are not rigid like the passport and credit cards, just reducing the size of the opening might not be enough to keep them inside the pocket if I move too much. So I added a button since my sewing machine has a buttonhole function.
It wasn't easy using that function on flimsy material like this. A cover flap might have been an easier solution than adding a button. Maybe I’ll install flaps on the other pockets later.
Step 5: Try It On
It’s comfortable and I can move about without anything falling out. It does look like I might need to repair the pockets eventually. The way the sharp corners of the passport and credit cards protrude under the thin fabric it looks like they’re about to poke through. I can reinforce those corners right now but I think I’ll wait.
As for how well it hides my valuables, if the pockets are full they will be somewhat visible if I'm wearing a tight- fitting plain T-shirt over the undershirt. But my button-down shirts hide them well. And the louder the shirt, the better.