A man’s story – my first handbag

It’s not a purse.

Well, it is . . . but we will preserve our masculinity and avoid calling it that.

Men’s city bags aren’t a new thing. They have been around for a while now. In the fifth series of Friends, an entire episode is dedicated to men’s bags, with Rachel helping Joey change his image. Joey resists, of course – but comes to like it and appreciate the utility of the extra compartments. He remains the butt of the joke though, and the consensus at the end is that the world isn’t ready for Joey to carry the bag.

Even in 1999 when the episode aired, times were changing, and the accoutrement, already popular in Europe and Asia, was catching on in big cities in the United States, and today have become a lot more common. The useful items are commonly seen on the streets of New York, Los Angeles and other major cities, and celebrities and our favorite athletes are frequently seen with them.

My first handbag

Everyone has a first, and mine was a gift from my wife. We were living in Bangkok – a huge city with notorious traffic jams, where a day out meant having to bring everything we would possibly need with us.

Before leaving our apartment, we said good-bye to our one-eyed cat, and I had to stop a moment to think about what I would need. A couple small packages of tissue (public bathrooms often had no toilet paper), a change purse loaded with change for incidentals, some heartburn medicine (spicy food!), a map, an English-Thai dictionary, my cell phone, and a half-dozen other things. Pockets weren’t enough. Back in the Midwest, I would have worn a sport coat and taken advantage of the extra set of pockets, but with temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit most of the day, that was not an option. This is short-sleeve weather.

A backpack would have just made me look well, like a backpacker. Not a look I enjoy, and not something that suits a man over 40.

Put it all in my wife’s purse? Tried it – she didn’t appreciate it.

I noticed how common it was for Asian men in these big cities to carry shoulder bags. I wondered if it was just an Asian style – should an American man wear one of these? I didn’t know. We had spent time in Burma and men there also wore skirts, and I wasn’t anxious to try that one, either.

I secretly thought that a black shoulder bag with a long strap looked rather stylish, and would be a great solution to a vexing problem, although I didn’t say anything. She must have noticed me looking, and she bought me one as a present, and my fashion sense has never been the same. Even in the United States, I carry one when we are going out on the town for the whole day, and it’s absolutely the best part of a man’s wardrobe. I don’t know why all men don’t use these.

Why do men need a bag?

We’re supposed to be low-maintenance, after all. The stereotype is that we take two minutes to get ready, and put on the same thing every day (curse you, Mark Zuckerberg, for facilitating this stereotype!). Here in the Midwest where we now live, most men are often quite content in a pair of jeans, a Notre Dame tee-shirt and a baseball cap, and have for the most part given up on the idea of looking good. What’s even more curious is the odd pairing of these fashion failures walking alongside their fashion diva girlfriends who look like they just came off the runway – it’s a strange combination, and it’s time to put an end to it. I loved the show Mad Men, and miss the days when people actually put some thought into what they look like before walking out the door. I admit I dress a little like Don Draper these days, and am frequently seen wearing a trilby hat, and a sport coat with a pocket square folded into points – and often with a shoulder bag!

Why do we need it? Well, Don Draper never had to carry around a smartphone, charging devices, and three or four other electronic devices (although he probably had a flask in his inside pocket). I talked to Chris Rivett, travel expert at HotelsCombined, and he agreed: “The days of bulging pockets are thankfully over,” he said. “These are perfect for travel and vacations, when you are more likely to need ready access to your things – but they’re not just travel fashion, we’re seeing these in our travels throughout the world as a mainstream accoutrement used unapologetically by men the world over. It’s the best thing to happen to men’s fashion since the fedora hat.”