This is actually a revision of yesterday’s post. I have added new information and re-written several sections. After my initial post, it occured to me that I had a lot more to say on the subject, so, take another look.
As someone who does not like having a lot of stuff jammed in my pockets, I have been dealing with the man bag issue for years. From backpacks to boxy briefcases, I’ve tried them all. With the advent of legitimate “man bags” – essentially, a man’s manly version of a purse – life has been both easier and more complicated. While bags for every need are now a mouse click away, the proper balance needs to be struck with functionality always just winning out, regardless of the sack’s elegance. What should you look for in a man bag? Well, Jack Bauer’s bag from “24” (a.k.a., the Jack Sack) is a good start. Though it’s got its own cult following, the über man bag belong to an earlier action hero.
Indiana Jones had a man bag
Growing up, my idol was Indiana Jones. He traveled the world, defied death, and taught archeology at Princeton to adoring girls. He had an awesome leather jacket, that great fedora, and a whip.
He also had a man bag. Where Jack’s might contain bullets, bombs and the random nuclear detonator, Indy’s bag held notebooks with ancient Egyptian calendar translations, golden statues, and grail journals. It was cool, but totally practical. It made sense; where else would all that stuff go? It was totally beat up and worn out but held in there one adventure after another.
Though I tried various versions of Indy’s bag, it never looked quite the same on me. As I grew up, my needs and sense of style changed as well. What stayed the same was the belief that, like Indy, guys with bags are cool. They are ready to go and have what they need.
Years ago, when I first went to Europe and saw all those guys walking around with great leather bags confidently thrown over a shoulder, I felt vindicated. A man with a bag isn’t the emotional and cultural speed bump it is here. It’s normal and practical; many European men don’t want to mess up the lines of their suits with pockets full of stuff. Still, it took years for a day-to-day bag for men to become a relatively common site in the states.
As with many social innovations, early man bags were borrowed in their functional form. When they first started showing up at the office or while running errands, the purpose-designed bags from companies like Timbuk2 and Manhattan Portage telegraphed that rather than simply needing a man’s version of the purse, you were creative, edgy, and had access to the manly bike messenger world. Messenger bags were the perfect hybrid; not a briefcase, not a backpack. Rather, they fell into a new category that moved more freely from home to street to office to Starbucks. They were accepted.
They were also decidedly utilitarian; one big compartment, maybe a small zippered pocket. Fast forward and today messenger bags have morphed into a whole new category. They now come in every material, from expensive leathers to rustic linen. There are now more pockets, sleeves and flaps than you can imagine for every gadget you can think of.
A great example of a man’s everyday bag can be found at Jack Spade. His day bag is a very usable update of a traditional messenger bag. Cleanly styled and available in several colors, it goes with almost any outfit and runs $115. For another $200, it also comes in leather.
Is it a man bag or a man’s bag? What about just calling it a bag? However it’s referred to, the man bag is now fairly ubiquitous if only because we carry around more things than ever before. For example, everywhere I go I take a wallet, keys, mobile phone, Blackberry, sunglasses, pens and notebook, small calendar, a book or two, and loose change. On most days, my all-weather, all-purpose bag is a small black Timbuk2 traditional messenger bag. It’s functional, blends in and is the perfect size.
But what makes a bag a “man bag” and not a messenger bag or a briefcase? Though open to interpretation, generally it is smaller than a briefcase and does not have handles. It tends to be styled like a messenger bag, with a cross-body strap and flap covering. You should be able to hold the necessities of life (as noted above) along with a book, but not necessarily a spare sweater.
Simple is always better, but if it has a lot of exterior pockets or buckles, a military or safari look tends to work best. Many versions now have open zipper tops; not entirely dissimilar to a purse, mind you, so you need to be selective about this style. These are often more formal bags, meant to replace a briefcase altogether.
This leads me to mention that you should feel free to build a wardrobe of bags, just as you would shoes or ties. Don’t think that one bag will fit every occasion. You wouldn’t wear sneakers to a job interview – same thing here.
The number of designers now offering their signature version of the man bag would seem to indicate that it has indeed gone mainstream. This means that in addition to your everyday J.Crew bag, you can now invest in an elegent creation from Mulberry, Ghurka, or Louis Vuitton. At the heirloom investment end of things, take a look at Bottega Veneta.
As I hinted at earlier, having a luxurious leather man bag slung over your shoulder can give rise to a host of other insecurities about maintaining your masculinity. Addressing this very point, the Daily Mail did a wonderful social analysis of the man bag; it’s a fun and educational read.
So, at the end of all this a question may still remain; is your man bag something to be ashamed of? The answer is rather simple: unless your wife is likely to grab it by accident, no, you’re fine.