How men’s handbags took over

Whether on the catwalk, in the fashion media or on the street, men’s bags are on the rise. While briefcases and backpacks have never really fallen out of favor, recent years have seen styles of accessories usually reserved for women being co-opted by men. From top-handle handbags to mini shoulder bags, it seems no silhouette is out of bounds.

NPD Group Market Research Company revealed that in the United States, sales of men’s and unisex handbags had increased by 700% in 2021 compared to 2018. Highsnobiety predicts this change in 2019, while vogue recently reported that handbag sales give the sneaker bang for the buck in the resale market. But why this sudden interest?

The increase in gender fluidity has certainly played a role, as menswear has embraced traditionally feminine items, including skirts, heels and nail polish. For eons, women have carried their belongings in bags of all shapes and sizes, and now men are allowed to enjoy such convenience. Plus, bags can instantly elevate a cut.

It’s not just about freedom of expression. Handbags are the backbone of revenue for luxury fashion houses. In 2018, Sanford C. Bernstein, an investment research firm, reported that handbags accounted for around 40% of a luxury brand’s annual profits.

To understand how we got here is to know the history of men’s bag trends. And as the story goes, bags have always been a man’s game.

From Antiquity to the Renaissance

Bags have been an integral part of the development of human civilization as they have helped people gather loose items for easy transport. This is believed that hunter-gatherers may have used proto-bags made of animal skins and plant fibers, yet it was in the Middle Ages that they became an accessory of the day. The word itself dates back to around 1200 CE to the Norse sacgimeaning “bundle” or “bundle”.

In the past, the belt pouch was the “It” bag of the day. First adopted by men and later by women, the small leather pouch hung from a belt or belt around the waist and was used to store valuables. But the advent of the pocket at the end of the Middle Ages made the humble pocket-belt obsolete.

The Renaissance brought more trends, including Elizabethan shoulder bags, which were inspired by the basic design of the belt pouch. Worn by the aristocracy, the elaborately embroidered bags were filled with fragrant items such as herbs and dried flowers to ward off foul odors at a time when personal hygiene was lacking. As with today’s it-bags, sweat bags were a sign of status and wealth.

Another notable invention of this era was the humble satchel, but it was mostly carried by schoolchildren. Bags began to divide along gender lines during the Renaissance – women’s designs boomed while men’s bags entered a period of calm.

Post-industrial innovation

The Industrial Revolution led to the boom in passenger rail transport in the first half of the 19th century and led to a demand for strong bags. Thus, the modern briefcase was born in the 1850s.

Simultaneously, there was a need for light luggage as the trunks of yore – which required the assistance of a porter – were cumbersome. The carpet bag, immortalized on screen in Mary Poppins, was mass-created as inexpensive personal luggage that was light enough for passengers to carry on their own. Originally made from rugs, rug bags later served as inspiration for the design of modern totes.

The wartime period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was also a boon for innovation. In 1878, US Army Colonel Henry Merriam received the patent for his so-called backpack. Although people have carried goods on their backs for millennia, Merriam designed the prototype of the modern backpack. Its design was cumbersome and eventually abandoned, but over the next half-century a series of constructions by several inventors eventually led to the backpack we know today.

The World Wars also gave us German bread bags, which featured straps attached to the belts, making them an early version of today’s beloved belt bag. Although these military styles were not trends when they were created, they became so after influencing later civilian fashion.

Men’s Fashion Tieback Bags

By the turn of the 20th century, most of the bag styles we know and use today had already been invented. But innovation returned in the 1980s, with the popularization of sports and wellness leading to an increase in fitness bags made from synthetic materials like nylon. Fanny packs – originally designed in the mid-century for hikers and downhill skiers (and very reminiscent of the earlier belt pouch) – proliferated and enabled hands-free styling. Advertising week even named him the best product of 1988. Duffel bags also rose to prominence over the decade as an update on the tote.

As fashion dictates, the 1990s saw the pendulum swing the other way. The style was so understated that bags as fashion accessories for men became virtually non-existent. This is when public opinion on men’s bags regressed to the era of the commendable “murse”. Thanks to a few prime-time storylines that saw an entire episode of Friends dedicated to ridiculing Joey’s new bag, while Jerry Seinfeld adopted a “European tote” on Seinfeldmen’s bags were as good as dead and buried.

Despite fears that men’s bags will persist into the 2009s The hangover made a punchline of the shoulder bag – men’s bag trends have finally made a comeback, albeit in a low key way. Alternative boys of the time eschewed backpacks for the nonchalant coolness of messenger bags – invented 150 years earlier for postal workers and yet another variant of the satchel – with pins from their favorite bands. Meanwhile, indie sleaze hipsters preferred roomy tote bags that communicated vague environmental concerns, while still managing to fit a six-pack of PBR. A win-win.

Streetwear reigns supreme

The rise of streetwear into luxury fashion in the 2010s completely upended the industry as we knew it. Where haute couture once dictated top-to-bottom trends, the script was reversed and big trends began to form first on the streets.

At the start of the decade, as menswear leaned into activewear, the backpack took center stage. In all honesty, backpacks never really went anywhere, but they were finally spending their day in the sun, or rather on the catwalks.

The sports theme continued with belt bags – or the second coming of the fanny pack – into the second half of the decade. Their ubiquity in high fashion – as well as equally sporty side panniers – speaks to the shift in power that defined the era. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in Louis Vuitton’s seminal collaboration with Supreme for Fall/Winter 2017. This merging of worlds paved the way for the expansion of masculine style codes we see today. .

Disruptive men’s fashion

It seems like anything goes these days, but the adoption of traditionally feminine bag styles in menswear is especially timely, as evidenced by Kim Jones’ reinvention of the Saddle bag at Dior and Hermès’ introduction of the Rock , the first Birkin for men. Meanwhile, brands like Telfar and Luar have popularized genderless mini bags, while male celebrities are increasingly donning handbags.

The huge increase in sales of men’s bags confirms that this is more than a passing micro-trend, as the boundaries of menswear continue to be pushed. And with bags fetching as much, if not more, than shoes or other items on the resale market, the commercial gains are sure to keep them in the spotlight. The history of men’s bags may be long, but it’s not as developed as women’s bags, so it’s high time for men to catch up.

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