Gentlemen, what bag are you opting for as you head out the front door this morning, a pouchette or a tote? A bum bag or a document holder? Are you an under the armpit kind of chap or do you sling a leather rucksack on your back?
While British men have slowly warmed to the idea of men’s accessories and the man bag, and its evolved from a classic briefcase to every shape and size conceivable, some of us are still reticent about man bags.
Which is a pity, because as our Italian brothers in arm candy demonstrate on the streets and the catwalks of Milan men’s fashion week, man bags are a key component of your look these days, with fashion houses coming up with innovative ways to get customers snapping up those oh-so-lucrative leather goods.
“Men can sometimes be reluctant when it comes to bags, but the important thing to remember is that if you’re in a suit, stuffing your pockets with your keys, wallet, phone etc. will completely ruin the cut of the tailoring”, says stylist Mitchell Belk. “For that reason I’m all for a man bag, but I think instead of the heavy duty briefcase with all the hardware it’s wiser to go for something smaller and pliable”.
Those painfully chic Italians - sip an espresso macchiato from a cafe overlooking any number of piazzas and you’ll see your average Italian man going about his business in immaculate style - provide a masterclass in how to wear them too.
“In Italy, the men carry them with much more nonchalance, it’s just a completely natural way to dress and it looks appropriate and masculine”, says Belk. “I’d advise British guys to do the same. You want something soft and pliable that can fit in with your lifestyle, that isn’t cumbersome. The leather will look great as it ages too.”
“The best advice is to keep it plain and classic,” Belk adds. “A document holder in caramel leather will always look great. Don’t get something that’s too fiddly; you want to look at ease”.
Times, and bags, they are a-changin’. Andrew Maag, Dunhill’s CEO, revealed that at that most British of sartorial institutions the category of folio and pouch bags is the fastest growing. The sturdy briefcase, which once was the only acceptable option for a man to be seen with (all too often a crocodile affair with gleaming gold clasps), has seen a host of contenders crop up, with designers at Milan men’s fashion week heading the charge.
“This is designed to look like you’ve just folded a cushion under your arm”, said Donatella Versace when introducing her autumn/winter 2018 collection, pointing to a bag designed to ape soft furnishings, complete with Persian-carpet tapestry and tassels. That might sound a tad outre for most of us, but it’s the shape and feel that’s the USP: soft, go-anywhere and easy to tuck under your arm.
Miuccia Prada, who created the cult black nylon messenger bag for men back in the 1990s, had new proposals to place your kit in, too: neat, compact doctors’ bags, vast postman-style messenger bags in leather - easy to shrug on as you dash out the door - and crisp, sharp document folders.
At Giorgio Armani, the designer sent models down the catwalk with small folded leather bags, the love-worn leather lending the effect of an heirloom accessory, and at Fendi, large, soft-structure totes took on a modern fluidity. .
There’s an unfortunate misconception that a man bag carries with it overtones of femininity. While we’ve come a long way from laughing at Joey in Friends for donning a man bag, there’s a fear that you’ll look like you’ve borrowed grandma’s shopping tote. But, as Tod’s designer Andrea Incontri proved during the brand’s presentation at Milan men’s fashion week, bags can be masculine too.
“We wanted to do something solid and a bit rugged alongside our more classic leather bags”, Incontri says of a nylon backpack that looks set for mountain yomps but is trimmed in the softest handcrafted leather with beautiful detailing. “It has substance and looks powerful”.
The humble rucksack, hitherto associated with geography field trips up Snowdonia and gap year backpackers, has been elevated to new sartorial heights. In its latest form - whether that’s exquisite leather at Brunello Cucinelli or beautifully printed at Etro - it’s a considered halfway point between rugged and refined: smart enough to wear to the board room but with a shape that’s synonymous with outdoorsiness and a certain dynamism.
“It’s certainly not just an item for the gym anymore”, confirms Belk. “Just be wary of the straps creasing a suit; if you’re wearing a smart blazer, and if you’re in a situation that’s a bit more corporate, I think it’s nicer to hold it by the handle”.
And the rucksack’s niftier, festival-going younger brother, the bumbag, is also back with a bold new attitude across the Milan catwalks, and particularly on its street style stars. This is not the rather embarrassing addendum it once was - particular to tourists with plastic visors and the phrase ‘unspeakably naff’ - but a new form of accessory that men’s fashion e-tail giants tactfully term ‘belt bags’.
The important styling tip here is that they aren’t meant to dangle from the waist anymore; instead, they are worn sideways across the body, pouch at the front, one side of the strap over the shoulder and the other under the arm. This is a dynamic, on-the-move fellow with little time for extraneous details: the compact size demands a concise edit of stuff, and there’s something very appealing about that.
All that’s left to consider is which tribe you belong to. Do you prefer a discreet leather folio to house the laptop, tucked under the arm of a handsome grey flannel suit, or are you a hike-ready hipster with a rucksack full of kit and caboodle?
You might even be a razzle dazzle ‘em showman, catered for splendidly in Gucci’s new collaboration with Elton John unveiled this week in Milan, featuring the icon’s album artwork on eye popping bags. Whatever your bag, there’s an accessory out there to suit you.
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