Imagine one of those evolution charts in which a primate, moving on his beastly hindquarters and fists, morphs into a highly intelligent human being, striding proudly on two legs. Now imagine it for men’s bags. (Isn’t science fun?). On one end is your sad, coffee-stained New Yorker tote—“I’m carrying a bag, but it’s really a badge that proves I’m an intellectual!” In the middle, the fanny pack, slung across the chest: “I’m carrying a bag, and it’s for fashion!” And at the most highly evolved stage? We are living in that very moment now. Men’s bags have finally become...human.
Which is to say: the fanny pack is now generating almost 25% of accessories growth in the United States, and that’s not because women are cuckoo for clout packs. Since skaters, and then fashion editors, started slinging the bum bag across their chest, the idea of a pouch that essentially functions as a clip-on vest in which to carry stuff—a midlayer garment—has become a welcome addition to the men’s wardrobe. It isn’t merely that men seem to be driving design and sales shifts in the handbag market, though. The women’s luxury model has always relied on a blockbuster bag or two—an it-bag—to keep the rest of the brand afloat, but now some of the most exciting and weird stuff in accessories is happening in the men’s space. And that is the evolutionary flourishing of which I speak.
In recent years, Prada, Dior, and Fendi have all made some of their iconic women’s it-bags for men, in many cases with tweaks that make them cooler than the women’s original. This started early within the menswear scene: in 2017, for example, when A$AP Mob appeared on the Tonight Show to perform “Feels So Good,” A$AP Nast had a Prada nylon shoulder bag front and center across his chest. Some of these machoed-out bags are less delicate, more utilitarian, than their women’s counterparts: late last year, Kim Jones did John Galliano’s much loved-and-hated Dior saddle bag, revived in 2018 by womenswear director Maria Grazia Chiuri, in metal. (It’s priced at $35,000—Birkin prices, baby!) For her Fall 2019 men’s collection, Silvia Venturini Fendi partnered with Japanese cult accessories brand PORTER to (re-) make the Fendi Baguette, best known from its perch under Sex and the City ingenue Carrie Bradshaw’s arm, for men. PORTER and Fendi tweaked the straps and fastenings to make it less of a sexy-little-thing, so you can wear it clout pack-style or around your waist. (It’s not hard to imagine that women will want to cop some of these manned-up it-bags, too.)
Other men’s houses are innovating entirely on their own wavelength, regardless of what’s happening on the women’s side. Louis Vuitton, of course, launched as a luggage brand, so it was no surprise that Virgil Abloh’s tenure began with a parade of crazy bags: big logo-print totes with splashy neon orange chains, fanny packs, and a utility bag that fastens across the chest and around the waist, like something a medieval knight might carry his rosary and dagger in.
For his Fall 2019 collection, Abloh’s blew up the bags even more, literally: duffels on steroids, tufted little monsters, and backpacks big enough to fit at least one of the teenagers who will stand in line for Abloh’s Vuitton accessories. But he also showed a few pieces squarely in the purse category, like a smart little trunk. (That may be for the truly daring Abloh stan, although let us not forget that one of Young Thug’s most iconic lines is “Got me a Birkin like I’m a bitch.”)
Other designers dancing on the purse-y line include Jacquemus, whose first season of menswear, hitting stores now, included a round leather bag meant to hang like a necklace, not much bigger than a sand-dollar and with just enough space for your essentials. They’re wacky little memes, showing how prepared the menswear market is to entertain a fashion objet over the practical carry-all.
Other recent twists in men’s bags have been more theoretical: it was in the men’s accessories world, of all places, that fashion’s warcore moment began, with Matthew Williams’s Alyx leaning so far into the idea of the cross-body bag as a garment that he morphed them into chest rigs that look like tactical combat gear.
But there’s no better sign of the evolution of the man-bag than the fact that even the humble ape, the tote bag, has gotten an uncanny upgrade: a leather Balenciaga tote available for $2,250 with an almost post-kitsch illustration of a puppy cuddling a kitten. What a way to transport this week’s New Yorker!
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