Bags in one form or another, for men, are nothing new. Business-men have been carrying briefcases for decades, and utilitarian bags have come in handy to men for one reason or another throughout history (for tools, groceries, baby gear, hiking). It’s only recently that bags as an essential element of a thoughtful everyday outfit, as they often are for women, have risen to prominence for men. Small or large, simple or statement, it’s almost assumed that male will have bag—it’s just a question of how baggy he wants to get. The best mens bags of 2019 are all unisex and touch on the broader truth that menswear and womenswear are slowly becoming less strict, less polarized, and far more fun.
The worry-free tote
In cities and urban environments, nice bags can feel sorta silly. In moving about the day, one comes into contact with all sorts of dirt, scum, and otherwise unfriendly environments for a bag made of beautiful leather or suede. Thus, the worry-free tote is key for the day-to-day, runabout routine. Hold it in your hands or sling it over a shoulder, this bag is no-frills but an infinitely useful catch-all.
I like the Dayton Shopper by WANT Les Essentiels (below left). It’s nylon (good because it’s light, bad because nylon can sometimes absorb stains easily) and I like the color contrast of tan with black trim. At $175 (East Dane), it’s not an insane investment and isn’t too terrible for an “imported” bag (that tends to mean China, Vietnam, or the like). It also comes in a cool teal/black. I would 100% rock either color.
In a similar vein on the higher end is this highly sturdy Lotuff Leather Working Tote II in a gorgeous green (below right). Lotuff is known for its robust hand craft (made in the USA!), so this tote will age well, stand up to daily use, and probably look that much better once it’s been broken in. $750 at Todd Snyder and one of the best mens bags of 2019.
For something even simpler and even more worry-free, there are things like these two aesthetically superior yet low-investment totes: the first (below left) is a flat bag in cotton-twill fabric with an abstract Alfie Kungu print in dark blue, white, and brown. It’s from London brand Folk, $80 at MR PORTER. The second (below right) is a dark-wash denim tote from Cleverly Laundry, which otherwise makes chic pajama sets, towels, and robes. It’s $85, also at MR PORTER.
Both bags elevate the simple canvas tote bag, which may seem needless but for many, is the most versatile of bags with little concern of ruin. These can haul personal effects as much as they can laundry, treasures from the farmer’s market, travel minutiae, or the essentials for a picnic in the park. Two of my favorites here, and at very reasonable prices.
The bougie backpack
Gone are the days when backpacks were chiefly technical, functional bags, more closely associated with sophomore year in high school or college than style. Backpacks are bougie now (even Hermès makes one) and they come in a vast range of materials, looks, and formats. They shift the work of load carrying to your backside so your hands can be free—though you’ll still have to shimmy one off and around your body anytime you need to fetch whatever’s inside.
I like the backpack-tote hybrid, which gives the wearer some options about how to wear, hold, or carry the backpack, for when on-the-back isn’t convenient, and when it is. It’s called versatility. This one from Prada (below left), in classic black nylon with saffiano leather trim, is a great example with an ergonomic approach: a main compartment topped with a zipper, two front pockets, two short top handles, but then a pair of shoulder straps clipped to the backside. Ecco qua! A backpack tote. Infinitely handy. $1,200 at Italist.
Otherwise, I do have a soft spot for the quintessential leather knapsack. Old-fashioned it may be, but ever so chic in our connected, smart, technical (sterile) modern world. This one from Anderson’s (above right) is really painfully elegant in both brown suede and leather, secured with a drawstring. I can see it now: slung over the shoulder of a John Hughes character in khakis and a polo, made modern because they’d all be oversized, with white socks and leather sneakers. Epic Americana prep at its best. Anderson’s is an Italian brand better known for its woven belts, but its aesthetic overall is very Polo Ralph Lauren, minus the obnoxious prancing pony logo. $895 at MR PORTER and one of the best mens bags of 2019.
The mini bag
Should you feel the need to scratch your trend itch, the mini bag is your new best friend. I actually like small bags, as there are plenty of situations where all I need to carry is my keys, phone, and wallet (and maybe sunglasses), but it’s not enough to warrant a full-size bag but also inevitably ruins the lines of my outfit if stored in my pockets. Enter the belt bag, wearable pouch, glorified lanyard, whatever you want to call it.
I like the a lot of designers are playing with our assumptions about small bags, making them into strange shapes, in formats more akin to jewelry, or just making them really fucking small. Take this one from Jil Sander (below left), which comes in the shape of a matchbox and is meant to be worn around the neck. Practical? I’m not sure. Eye-catching? Definitely. $578 at Matchesfashion.
Acne Studios is also doing well in this game, with small pouches, small “coin purses,” and even tiny little totes (currently sold out). This one is decently-sized for the essentials (above right) and I like the knotted leather cords. It comes in black and brown and is $420 at SSENSE.
My personal preference is for this little black brick of a bag (below), designed under Bottega Veneta’s new creative director Daniel Lee out of not intrecciato woven leather but perforated calfskin, like the MB-tex (vinyl) seats of 1980s Mercedes-Benzes. Except, this version is much softer. $890 at Bottega Veneta, and definitely one of the best mens bags of 2019.
The Lux Option
And finally—you knew it was coming—the lux option for the best mens bags of 2019. The holy grail. The painfully expensive but oh so gorgeous, worth every stinking penny piece. This is my favorite category. If for no other reason than, it speaks to my Pisces nature of dreaming big. And then shopping on sale, obviously.
Exhibit A: bright, poppy blue from Prada. Finally, something that isn’t printed with Frankenstein heads, flames, or some other silly motif. And, not made of saffiano, which is hard, scratchy leather. Durable but ugly. This bag is instead made of grainy calf, a sort of happy medium between the rough handle but indestructibility of saffiano and the delicate, scratch-prone nature of some of Prada’s other calfskins. It’s $2,390 at Prada.
From a different region of Italy and a seemingly different era is this cheerful green leather duffel backpack from Gucci, a comparable bargain at only $2,100. It’s got the very 70s-inspired mixed metal logo in silver and gold, but otherwise is a pretty understated, other than being green, everyday bag. That it is also a sort of hybrid backpack duffel bag makes it even better.
I’m not the biggest Alessandro Michele fan, but this upcoming season of mens accessories and bags is getting less logo-y and more elegant, and so I am supportive.
And if you are interested in something that ticks off more than a few of trend boxes, e.g. small, lux, and hard-sided, which I think is a forthcoming trend just on the horizon, and you prefer more of a forward aesthetic than a retro one (above), then you should consider one of Bottega Veneta’s new crossbody mini-trunks.
They come in black, red, and this ottanio (dark teal), which is particularly endearing. The bag itself is quite small, so this isn’t about carrying things as much as making a bold statement. Is it a shrunken briefcase? Is it a masculine minaudière? Does it matter, if it’s this gorgeous? I haven’t had the pleasure of caressing this “butter calf” but I am making an educated guess that it’s quite choice. As it should be for $2,790, a.k.a. a small fortune (but it’s best not to dwell on those things).
I know I’ve been banging the Daniel Lee drum lately, but I really do think some of his ideas and designs are more interesting and genuinely thoughtful than a lot of more mainstream, commercial collections. In fact, I had a hard time finding any other good examples of “hard-sided mens bags.” Even most business briefcases are soft now. Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh is doing quite a few “soft trunks” (backpack, crossbody) in reference to that brand’s travel trunk heritage, but they’re all a little less discreet, less tasteful. Fun perhaps, but a louder statement than I prefer (and thus not one of the best mens bags of 2019).
In the end, a bag is a bag is a bag. As long as it carries and secures things in transit, that’s all that matters. But like any car enthusiast will insist—that not all cars are created equal—a bag can be as intimate and personal an experience and an expression as you want it to be. It all depends on your needs, which qualities are most useful to you, and your budget. I happen to like bags just a teensy bit more than I love shoes, or sunglasses, or jewelry, and so I would like to have several to rotate. The ones listed here are my picks for the best mens bags of 2019.
For more ideas, see my Pinterest board Bags for Manly Men. To snag a deal, I also browse the following sites regularly:
My own extra special appreciation for bags of all kinds (mens, womens, whatever) I think comes from an early spatial awareness. I always loved the idea of the inside of something more than the outside, loved cozy interiors and furniture more than the outsides of houses. I loved the intimacy and security of the bag (or box) as a place to store and protect precious things. The inside of a purse always felt cool to me (literally cold to touch), and usually held treasures like mints or car keys or sunglasses. The inside of an upscale handbag, if lined in suede or leather, felt like the inside of a plush velvet theater box to me. We had big canvas totes that were the keepers of goodies, of beach or pool or boating day supplies, and they always smelled like summer. They were a safety net, a place to be organized and not lose anything. And throughout my lifelong love of cars, I’ve always paid more attention to the interiors, which can make or break the overall experience of driving and being driven.
Needless to say, I really like bags, and appreciate all of their details and uses. My first designer bag was a Prada nylon messenger bag bought off of eBay. Later I found that shopping for high-end bags was an expensive pursuit and so I abandoned it for many years (during which I had some great, more utilitarian Jack Spade tote bags). Living in Italy brought me back to my visceral appreciation for the “luxury bag” and for a brief time I had quite a few, only to dial back again, realizing I only truly cherished a handful. Today, living in San Francisco, I use the canvas tote I got for free at a bookstore for spending $100 during the holidays more than I do my high-end leather bags, but I still love them and break them out from time to time.
A love of the carry inspired this post. <3