Shopping Guide: 4 Essential Bags for Men

October 8th, 2008

I think guys have this impression that bags are for utility; you put all your stuff in there and you’re done.  And while I don’t think a guy should obsess over bags, there are decidedly different types of bags for different occasions.  And because they’re everyday accessories, they’re something worth splurging on.   Here’s the rundown of the 4 essential bags:

Backpack

Ridge Backpack
Ridge Backpack | $108 at LeSportsac Guys

Yes, guys, you CAN wear a backpack without looking like a fifth grader.  The trick, though, is to a) not have “Jansport” written anywhere on it and b) keep it less than huge.  Keep your backpack simple and refined: I’d suggest monochromatic, something dark or neutral.  If you’re a luxe kind of guy, fear not: there are plenty of leather backpacks out there (Hogan offers one for $1,165).

Who should wear it
: Schoolchildren, outdoorsy type, people who work in very casual environments.
Who shouldn’t wear it: Those with a desk job.  

Messenger Bag
Nylon Canvas Field Bag
Nylon Canvas Field Bag | $150 at Jack Spade

In recent years, one-strap bags (“messenger” bags) have become the craze, if not the cliché.  I can see why: they’re practical, more refined than most backpacks and not unstylish.

Who should wear it:
College students, IT guys.
Who shouldn’t wear it: White-collar types (unless you’re traveling).


Briefcase

Transatlantic Leather Lexington Brief
Transatlantic Leather Lexington Brief | $448 at Coach
Photo courtesy of Men’s Vogue

The briefcase is the most refined “bag” a man can have – and accordingly, it’s usually the most expensive.  A briefcase is a statement that you’ve made something out of your life (career wise at least).  Formal and usually made out of luxe materials such as high-grade leather and precious metals (think 24k gold metal locks), briefcases mean business.  But keep in mind there are two types: soft and hard.  Both are pretty much office standards, but the soft ones are a bit more informal.  Keep your briefcase simple and traditional: get one in black or dark brown.  Skip the high tech ones like the $16,000 carbon fiber piece from Hermes.

Who should wear it: White-collar types.
Who shouldn’t wear it: Anyone that’s not a white-collar type – you’ll come off as pretentious.

Duffel (Weekend) Bag
Waxed Cotton Medium Travel Explorer
Waxed Cotton Medium Travel Explorer | $259 at Barbour
Photo courtesy of men.style.com.

Michael BastianI don’t know if there is technically a difference between a duffel and weekend bag, but I tend to think of a weekend bag as a more refined version of the traditional rugged duffel.  Weekend bags are really for those guys in New York who want that 3 day trip to the Hamptons or Maine and need something to put clothes, shoes, bottles of wine, and whatever else you want to put in there.  And that’s the beauty of it; it really is a holdall bag – just throw you’re stuff in there. One of my favorite pictures on The Sartorialist is of Michael Bastian wearing a wrinkled dress shirt, Nantucket reds and loafers, while trying to hail a cab carrying a weekend bag (ok it’s a duffel bag…I guess Mr. Bastian can make even duffels look cool).

The downside of weekend bags is that they are a luxury: you don’t really need them.  As a result, most good ones are expensive.  If you do get a weekend bag, though, pay a little more and get one that’s well made.  I like the motto, “Beat up the pretty things;” it describes exactly how I’d treat a beautiful weekend bag.

Style Tip:  Jack Spade is my default for bags; I implicitly recommend Jack Spade for any of the above types of bags.  I have a messenger bag and a briefcase, and if I were to get a backpack, I’d get one from Jack Spade.  You can pretty much find any kind of bag you’d need at Jack Spade.  They aren’t the cheapest, but in terms of style (simple) and durability (high), I give it my full endorsement.  See more styles at Jack Spade, 56 Greene St., New York, NY. 212 625-1820.

Entry Filed under: Men, Shopping Guide

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sirish  |  October 12th, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Very insightful article. I just finished undergrad and working in a semi-formal atmosphere. A messenger bag is too strainful on the shoulder as one side takes all the weight. Though it looks more stylish than a backpack - I was wondering if I was making a fashion sin by wearing a backpack - looking like a school kid. But, now I feel acceptable to wear one.

  • 2. Trisha  |  October 13th, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the article, Sirish. The right backback can work, especially in casual work environments.

  • 3. Raffy  |  October 16th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Hey Trisha! I just wanted to add: Louis Vuitton has some really great weekend bags. In particular, the Grimaud from the ‘07 Bequia collection and the Bourget from the permanent Epi line are fantastically chic. Also, since you’re pulling from Sartorialist, I remember seeing a photograph of a man with a great Mulberry Picadilly. Check it out!

  • 4. steve Walsh  |  January 1st, 2009 at 4:52 am

    I was under the impression there was only one type of briefcase, and that’s soft. The hard “briefcase” is the attache case.

    I could be wrong.

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