Death to the “man bag”
You might have recently seen one bulging with the weight of clinking Kombucha on the B train. Either that or perhaps it was Balenciaga’s spring 2018 collection that made you consider for the first time that this men’s accessory was very much a thing, and that those waifish art boys who ignored you at your friend’s Fashion Institute of Technology graduation party last summer were actually ahead enough of this canvas trend to warrant such attitude.
The tote or “man bag” or “murse.” It’s here, it’s bento box-levels of practical, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon — which might have something to do with the fact that it’s already been around forever. Like, since the Renaissance forever. Whether it was the advent of the briefcase in the wake of the Industrial Revolution or the Indiana Jones-inspired revival of the satchel, men carrying bags has gone in and out of vogue for actual centuries. But as evidenced in the turn-of-the-millennium episode of Friends where Joey carries a leather shoulder bag much to the chagrin of Chandler and Ross, “man bags” have seemed to only get more controversial as time has gone on.
And despite the fact that enough hip kid influencers have been photographed of recent carrying a bag to declare a whole new chapter in the long history of the man bag, it’s still just that: A “man” bag. In a Vogue piece from July — all about the growing prevalence of guys carrying bags — the tote was christened anew as a “mote.” As in tote but with the first letter replaced by the seemingly manly consonant that is “M” so as to make it a little more... who knows?
Are canvas bags not telling me something? Are they from Venus after all? Should I expect mine to settle down with a nice, successful duffel one day? Considering the Vogue writer only used it the two times, it’s likely “mote” was more turn-of-phrase than anything else. Clever? Sure. But, in the year of our Dwyane Wade carrying a spaniel-shaped Thom Browne bag, is it really necessary?
The literal market capitalizing on “brogurt” and — no joke — Skinny Cow for Him would unfortunately suggest that it is.
Mote is just the latest example of a bafflingly gendered object being added to our sexicon, and just when it seemed we as a people had finally vanquished “murse” — that Bush-era term used ad nauseam to describe any and all bag-shaped objects carried, for whatever inexplicable reason, by a man. Quelle horreur. At a time when androgyny is as much a fixture on runways as it is a talking point on the red carpet, it seems more retrograde than ever to return to this kind of categorization. On a linguistic level, “purse” remains so ardently female and yet we’ve approached a point in time when makeup and periods are things men have come to understand and even experience for themselves.
So it’s death I wish. Not to a man and his purse, but to the notion that a man’s purse is somehow different than a female’s purse or someone of any gender’s purse, that this object holds some sort of gender identity at all.
Take the briefcase: The almighty hallmark of men’s accessories, there’s never been much of a need to classify it as something distinctly male or to neuter it of any affiliation with it’s more purse-like equivalents. If anything, the fashion world has avoided gendering the briefcase all together. Balenciaga, Altuzarra, and Dries Van Noten are just a few examples of designers who included briefcases in their women’s runway shows this year. And they did so without rebranding them as “wiefcases” in the process. Somehow… some way…
Even in the event that Vogue, and anyone else who’s ever testosterone-ized a bag, was just making light of an ever-burgeoning trend, the wrong message is still getting sent. It’s no longer subversive to encourage a man to carry a bag when it’s framed as a risk or some decision that’s got to be tempered with the coining of a suddenly male title. That does nothing but cement the idea of men exploring the expression of their gender as a stigma.
Representation is key and if it’s taken men as strapping as LeBron or A$AP Rocky or the OG metrosexual himself David Beckham to lead the charge, the endeavor seems worthwhile. Because the less men there are gendering their sacks, the more hope we’ll have of a future where t-shirt swapping Gigi and Zayn aren’t deemed the trailblazers of gender fluid fashion.
And if that future is as simple as a guy choosing to store his shit in a tote as opposed to Costco-sized pant pockets, well, then carry on.