A lavender-toned purse topped with sparkling brooches was wrapped around the waist of a hand-embellished Elie Saab dress on the Haute Couture Week catwalk in Paris earlier this year. Karl Lagerfeld also incorporated skinny belts topped with rectangular pouches, no doubt inspired by bum bags, in his haute couture looks for Chanel. That’s right – bum bags. This typically unfashionable accessory has been given an extravagant makeover, with fashion houses like Gucci, Prada and Moschino all delivering luxury renditions. And, surprisingly, they’re selling like hot cakes.
The accessory has humble roots, and was likely inspired by early Native Americans who wore buffalo pouches around their waists instead of sewing pockets into their clothing, or by European lords in the medieval ages who would store their weapons in pouches attached to their belts. In terms of contemporary fashion, the bum bag has never been described as covetable – until now, that is.
Traditionally offered in a slouchy, inverted trapeze shape, and fitted with zippers and a canvas strap with a buckle, the bum bag went mainstream in the 1980s. Crafted from neon neoprene and vinyl textiles, sometimes with gold or silver metallic colours, it was a convenient, utilitarian and hands-free alternative to a bulky handbag. But it seemed fated to remain in the realm of the unstylish, and by the 1990s, bum bags quickly became symbolic of out-of-place tourists, dishevelled joggers and flustered mothers-on-the go.
Depending on where you are in the world, bum bags are also referred to as hip sacks, waist packs, banana bags, belt packs and moon bags. While all indicators suggested that the bum bag had made a hasty (and welcome) retreat into fashion history, over the past few seasons, international brands – Italian, Parisian and even Middle Eastern – have shown an eagerness to revive it.
There have been bum bags in glossy jewel tones at Emporio Armani, oversized pouches buttoned onto wide belts at Marni, minimalist drawstring designs at Celine and leather envelope styles dangling off belts at Stella McCartney. Dubai-based label Bouguessa, which specialises in shirt-dresses and abayas, recently adorned its tunics and trenches with self-typing belts, with removable, oversized pouches attached. Likewise, lace gowns created by Madiyah al Sharqi for the 2017 summer season featured matching pastel-hued bum bags.
But if you really want to witness the newfound stardom of the bum bag, observe the ensembles of fashion week ticket-holders, and you’ll spot the controversial accessory, adorned with designer logos and emblems, around the waists of high-profile fashion editors, designers and influencers. As a matter of fact, the new, cooler way to wear your bum bag is slung over one shoulder, à la Louis Vuitton’s 2017 and 2018 menswear offering. Men, too, are at risk of succumbing to the craze – new Hermes, Lanvin and Gucci collections for men all include bum bags.
Some style-conscious consumers are managing to adopt this trend without actually splurging on a designer bum bag. Instead, they’re simply doubling up the shoulder straps of their luxury Fendi or Mulberry handbags, and wrapping them around their waists in a layered fashion, to emulate the appearance of a bum bag. It’s a clever way to cheat the system and still sport the trend. After all, Gucci’s turquoise-coloured bum bag in quilted velvet may well become a fashion staple this autumn. But will you feel confident enough to fasten it around your waist three years from now? Perhaps not.