Man bags aren’t just for kids

Teeny, tiny bum bags and humongous totes are trending with the #menswear crowd – but is there a way to get on board with it as a grown-up? Aleks Cvetkovic thinks there is...

This is a funny one. Man bags, it seems, have become a thing this season – building on last winter’s frankly bizarre trend for wearing fugly vintage-looking bum bags across your body, a hipster-cum-normcore style statement if ever there was one.

If you’re wondering what a man bag is, as opposed to just ‘a bag’, I’m afraid the answer isn’t entirely straight-forward. Loosely speaking, it’s either a tote, shoulder-strap bag or small hand-held repository that’s used as a fashion accessory ‘to pull together your look’ as much as it’s used for carrying stuff. Generally, man bags are either unnecessarily huge – as though you’re purposefully carrying around all your football clothes or golf bats (I was never into sport), or impractically titchy, with barely enough capacity to carry your house keys – because why use a coat pocket when you could amble around town flashing a man-clutch at other urbanites less fashionable than you?

In theory, I should hate this trend. I mean, I really, really should. As a general rule I’ve always been more interested in ‘wearable’ menswear that’s grounded in reality, over design-led fashion statements and affected fads. The thing is, there’s something actually quite considered about matching your shoes and belt to your bag, and something quite hip about breezing through Shoreditch with a sharp-looking tote that makes you look more put-together than you actually are. Just think of the alternative; struggling about town with a grubby cotton ‘Planet Organic’ tote over your shoulders that you bought on a identity-crisis driven whim waiting for a bus outside Angel station last week…

Taken in this context, a well-chosen man bag is quite a clever way to fool a client, an employee, or an attractive passer-by; a swish-looking tote or dinky portfolio looks purposeful and says to the world ‘I know what I’m doing’. It’s like a well-polished pair of shoes – it somehow excuses (or at least detracts from) bad behaviour.

Certainly, I’m more into big man bags than small ones; if I can’t fit a laptop, a magazine, a good book and hip-flask in my tote, something’s off. Somehow the trend for teeny-tiny bags seems a touch less convincing, but then, maybe pocket-sized man bags make sense in a world where all we carry is a mobile phone that connects to the internet, tells us what’s in our diary for the day, and also pays for things at the touch of a dangerously convenient thumb-shaped button.

I’m not sure I’ve made my mind up on man bags either way, which probably means I’ve got to try one out for a while. If you’re also intrigued, here are five that don’t abhor me. Good luck.

1. Paul Smith holdall

The navy canvas will look sharp with anything, and the subtly contrasting dark green straps are a little different, but look intentional. Both the canvas and leather is good quality, too.


2. J Crew ‘Oar’ tote

The tan leather tote is a classic, and I’ll confess I’ve got one – it functions as my main bag day-to-day. J Crew’s isn’t too expensive for a solid leather bag, and I like the smart mix of canvas trims and brass hardware.


3. Bleu de Chauffe messenger bag

Bleu de Chauffe’s bags are reassuringly solid, and this messenger bag is no exception with its shower-proof fold-down top. Wear across the body or over your shoulder for the full-on man bag effect.


4. Troubadour ‘Adventure’ tote


I love Troubadour’s thinking; it’s a considered independent bag maker that uses clean designs and intelligent, functional materials to create bags that travel well and last for years. The Adventure tote is a winner, great for weekends around town.


5. The North Face belt bag

Belt bag is the name that the fashion industry has bestowed upon the reinvented bum bag. If you’re into the trend, this blue nylon number from The North Face should do the trick. Wear across the body though, not your bum.