Bags for men – more commonly, although sometimes derisively, referred to as a “man purse” – have seen their popularity rise and fall over the past few centuries. In the present, they’ve reached an apex, fueled by the influence of Covid-19 on social expectations and needs.
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Whether you’re returning to work, need to use public transportation, or planning a trip to the supermarket, every man needs to be ready with at least one face mask and, for good measure, a bottle of hand sanitizer. A pair of gloves and even sanitizing wipes offer a backup solution, and none of this encompasses the wallet and keys you carry with you on the regular.
Unfortunately, even for a baseline level of preparedness, pockets – even the deeper, fuller pockets on men’s jeans, jackets, and shirts – don’t really provide the room. Or, if they do, as is the case with cargo shorts and utility jackets, you’re stuffing them to the point of bulk. You no longer appear as an effortless gent – you’re an awkward, socially unaware tourist, and no amount of ease and self-assurance will make up for it.
Enter the man purse – or, more specifically, messenger and cross-body bags. They’re convenient, offer multiple pockets for organizing your belongings, and, once over your shoulder, stay out of the way. Yet, in spite of their practicality, the man purse is often seen as a symbol of feminization – perhaps even unintentional camp – rather than a way to store and access key pandemic essentials as you go out into the world.
Types of Man Purses by Use
The Best Man Purse for Travel
For starters, this won’t be your luggage and, instead, pertains to your carry-on. The best man purse for travel tends to be a larger satchel or messenger bag, ideally made from leather or durable nylon to hold up to long trips away from home. Look for anything with a cross-body strap, instead of a tote-style bag, which can become uncomfortable to hold in transit or on an expedition. An example is this leather bag from Gallaway.
For a Messenger Bag Man Purse
A messenger bag man purse, like this style from Herschel, is what you want to select for this scenario, although a satchel would be fine. A cross-body bag, by contrast, is too small. Understand that whether you drive or take public transit, your work bag should comfortably offer space for a laptop or tablet, a notebook, a wallet, keys, and any other small items. Because you want to appear polished, leather is preferred to nylon or another textile-based material.
For a Leather Man Purse
While you can find a man purse made out of nylon or another textile-based material, leather is still classic and goes the distance, whether that’s to work or for a short trip to the store. For something durable and with more timeless appeal, consider the Hidesign Aiden crossbody for this purpose.
For an Everyday Man Purse
A cross-body bag suits short trips to the store and other errands, such as this style from Adidas. Essentially a pouch with pockets attached to a strap fitting across your torso, this type of man-purse should deliver enough room for a wallet and keys, plus hand sanitizer and a face mask.
What is a Man Purse?
With this background out of the way, what constitutes a man purse?
For starters not every bag a man carries can be classified as a “man purse.” Luggage, despite the market’s fluidity, is too large and too cumbersome. After all, especially once your bag reaches a certain size, you’ll simply check it or put it in the overhead compartment.
To the other side, a man purse isn’t a wallet, which is so inconspicuous it can be slid into a pocket, never to be retrieved until you need to purchase gas.
Third, a man purse isn’t a backpack. Of all bag styles, a backpack is perhaps one of the most unisex, crossing men’s and women’s trends with its practicality.
Instead, a man purse varies from a cross-body to a messenger and encompasses the satchel. It can further include a tote-style bag, due to the handle and more feminine character, and anything resembling a clutch. Just as with all bags, you’ll spot man purses made with leather, nylon, and several other durable materials.
Where Does the Man Purse Come From?
To start, let’s make a distinction between the purely pragmatic and social expectations. While, at least from a historical perspective, men have used bags in place of pockets for centuries. The “man purse” as a phrase dates back to the ‘90s.
Some pin its development to a Seinfeld episode, where Jerry’s carrying around a European purse-like bag, only to have it stolen. Others attribute it to a 1999 Friends episode, “The One with Joey’s Bag,” where Matt LeBlanc’s character is sporting a leather tote bag.
Into the 2000s, the man purse had a somewhat more covert reputation – as long as you transported it as luggage. Louis Vuitton’s massive monogramming that decade blurred the lines between these distinctions, and as such, you’d see European soccer players like Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham toting along large luggage- or briefcase-like bags that, if shrunken in size, had the trappings of a purse or, in Ronaldo’s case, a clutch.
Yet, that decade also brought one running joke in The Hangover, of Zach Galifianakis’ character sporting a leather satchel, based on the fact Indiana Jones also carried one for practical purposes. Bradley Cooper’s character can’t get over it and calls it a “man purse.”
Purses actually started as an item for men, designed to hold onto money and other important belongings that women typically didn’t need to carry. By the Renaissance era, satchels, were a wealthy man’s item. Into the 18th century, rail travel and the emergence of traditional office occupations resulted in more men carrying luggage and briefcase-like bags.
On the battlefield and into the 20th century, most soldiers carried a bag – perhaps similar in size to today’s dopp kit – that was secured to a belt. Today, MOLLE webbing provides similar, but more modular, capabilities for attaching smaller bags to a larger pack, garment, or belt.