Male fashion is not a field I can claim to have perfected.
I’ve made some shocking sartorial choices during my long and gruelling journey from fresh-faced teenager to bearded man. Neon laces, Primark’s entire Che Guevara T-shirt collection and – two words that still make me shiver – string vests.
But throughout it all, one consistent favourite has emerged: the humble man bag.
Men wearing bags is a relatively new trend, and has attracted plenty of criticism. Just the other day, a stranger confronted me in public and angrily demanded to know why I was wearing a man bag.
If only he knew what he was missing out on.
The over-the-shoulder strapped bag comes in many shapes and sizes, but its fundamental feature is a zipped pouch – sometimes two – that provides a practical alternative to the outdated pocket.
Keys, phone, wallet, headphones, hand sanitiser, pens, paper, lanyards, emergency aftershave, hopes, dreams, and Tottenham’s trophy cabinet – there’s no limit to what you can carry.
The bag can also be skilfully positioned to sit just over the stomach, giving the potential added bonus of obscuring any extra kilograms.
And for the more careless among us, keeping all your stuff zipped up in one place helps prevent loss and theft.
Practical, fashionable, slimming and safe ― what’s not to love?
And imagine the alternative. The sharp corners of the latest iPhone protruding out of pockets that are too small for purpose. Keys lost for the fourth time after you forgot which trousers you put them in. Or carrying an entire laptop bag or rucksack to work.
I was recently forced into such depths when I had to say goodbye to my long-term companion – a Nike bag that had accompanied me from Beirut to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, never balking at its duties on any of our travels.
Three days later, I had ordered its replacement – a modest alternative from Tommy Hilfiger (whose similarity to my name is a mere coincidence, I promise).
Its arrival restored order to my life and was a cause for celebration.
I proudly paraded it in the office the next day, provoking strange stares and confused comments from colleagues.
It’s true that the feedback wasn’t all positive – I haven’t seen any other men at work sporting the bag, not even my more stylish colleagues.
Others might argue that it’s not appropriate for the suit-and-tie culture in some workplaces, despite the practical advantages.
But for me, my bag doesn’t just have practical appeal – it also makes me feel connected to my London roots while I live and work in a different continent.
The man bag is now global – a unisex bag from Uniqlo is currently trending as “the bag of 2023" on TikTok, and celebrities from the US to South Korea have publicly sported the look.
Yet I will always associate the man bag with British youth culture.
Anyone who has ever participated in the UK’s great tradition of summer festivals will have witnessed a sea of pouches, usually sitting smugly below a bucket hat, providing a practical haven amid the muddy chaos.
And in London and other major British cities, the bag is associated with working class style – a black Nike or adidas bag is now a staple of what is known as “road man” attire, but it’s been sported by young people from across different subcultures for decades.
While working class fashion has often been stigmatised by the mainstream British media – former UK prime minister David Cameron’s famous promise to “hug a hoodie” drew a direct link between clothing and so-called antisocial behaviour – it is now emulated by young people across British society.
And who can blame them?
In moving fashion towards practicality, the man bag reminds me of women’s long-running campaign for dresses and skirts to include pockets.
Although the embrace of the man bag may be moving in the opposite direction – away from the pocket – it is part of the same shift towards sustainable and suitable clothing that puts people first.
And that can only be a good thing.
The era of the pocket is over.
Long live the man bag.