Once upon a time, in an episode of the TV show Malcolm in the Middle, the oft embattled father, Hal, was heard to bemoan a particular aspect of male dress that has been an affliction on our gender for many years; he pointed out that women were spared this particular problem, whilst men were left to struggle on in great difficulty and all for the sake of one thing. Women have handbags whilst men have only a small rectangle of leather in which they have to transport their entire lives – and then proceed to sit on for much of the day.
Now, I think we can all agree that this is about as un-stylish as it is possible to get; having to reach behind you, dragging your battered wallet from a place not so far from your bum isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of sartorial elegance. But despite the fact that it has been this way for quite a few years, it does not necessarily mean we need to continue the practice.
Thankfully, with the concept of the man bag and all its varieties finally becoming an accepted part of the male wardrobe, we can banish this archaic and unfortunate method to the history books. That is not to say that we are ridding ourselves of the wallet, we are simply keeping it somewhere other than our seat cushions. However, bags are often much larger than the wallet we intend to put in them and it would be utterly ridiculous to carry one around purely for the purpose of doing so, so how might we make the best use of our man bag?
The first thing you need to consider is exactly what man bag you want, need or best suits your style. Assuming you already have at least one bag it might be worth investing in a couple more to augment your choices; you couldn’t for example wear a canvas backpack with your suit, or any kind of formal wear for that matter. A leather messenger or satchel will probably be your best option for work; clean, classic and unfussy, it will blend effortlessly with your shoes and belt (remember to match your leathers).
If your casual style allows, you could very easily incorporate a backpack (covered in much depth by Jonathan Bracewell in his Key Accessory piece), canvas messenger or tote bag. You might also want to consider a smaller structured holdall, or an unstructured version if your style errs on the more smart side of casual. Here the lack of a bag strap will force you to carry it by the handles, allowing your outfit to sit much straighter and neater; very important when tailoring is concerned.
Alongside this you must also think about what you want to put in your bag, where you are going and what the situation will call for: a quick trip into town? A small bag that can hold only the essentials will suffice. Going for a day out somewhere? Something larger that can hold more items will prove much more practical. Always remember the point of a bag is that it should keep your pockets and hands (according to bag choice of course) free; carrying around a bag that is much too small or far too big for your needs is quite frankly, a bit of a faux pas and will have a major effect on your whole outfit.
Once you’ve chosen your appropriate carrying companion you have to think about what you need to put in it. As previously mentioned, you don’t need a big bag to carry around your wallet, so you still need to take into account the size. But there are still a few essential items that should be carried with you at all times. Fashion and style is very much about preparation; we want to go around looking our best and the same concept works with what you put in your bag – you need to be ready for almost anything.
Of course, bearing in mind what we have already discussed, your wallet is clearly going to be one of the things you put in your bag. The choice of style is entirely down to you, but it is perhaps past time that you hung up your Velcro sealed wallet or anything with a particularly outlandish design. A classic brown or black leather billfold will see you right in any situation.
But wait! What do you do with your change? You can’t exactly have it rolling around in the bottom of your bag, nestled in all manner of unlikely places, so you might want to invest in a coin pouch – this will alleviate the need for unsightly rummaging at inappropriate moments AND make you look a whole lot more organised.
Arguably, your phone is an essential that you could keep in your pocket; buried deep within the bowels of your bag, you might not hear it ringing. However, a pocketed phone will still ruin the shape of a pair of trousers and if you’re like me, then no one ever really rings you without you having at least some notion that you might get a call. Provided you take care of your bag, your phone is more likely to be safer in that than in your pocket.
With the inevitability of you owning a large, touch screen phone, protecting the glass is very important. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people with cracked screens and in nine cases out of ten, a case could have prevented it – if you intend to put it in your bag put a case on it, simple.
In an age where we all own an increasingly large number of portable devices, protection is the key. More often than not they represent a very significant investment and it would be silly to leave them as they are.
For me, my iPod is a must have for my bag, so to is my kindle; I never know when I might be stuck somewhere or find myself in possession of a bit of free time.
The number of grown and supposedly stylish men that I see charging around in the rain devoid of an umbrella is utterly baffling to me. There is absolutely nothing elegant and sartorial about arriving at your destination drenched, with your outfit ruined and your mood very much darkened. Many men still think of an umbrella as a feminine choice and would prefer to barge on through the elements like the grizzled, uncouth beasts they would like to be.
By investing in a compact umbrella you will be guaranteed to save yourself a great deal of misery. It is one essential that you should never leave home without. My advice would be to invest in a slightly more expensive example because they will withstand the wind and the test of time much better.
Learn how to use it too. Don’t just expect to hold it straight above your head, because rain doesn’t always fall straight down – I’ve seen umbrellas broken by inappropriate use too many times. Finally, always put it back in the cover when your done; ruining everything else in your bag isn’t cool.
As men we will inevitably get a bit stinky now and again, so bringing something that can help to either freshen you up or help to pre-emptively tackle a case of the stinks is always worth a look. Hygiene and personal appearance is just as important as the clothes we wear, and so with this in mind, breath fresheners and maybe a couple of other travel grooming products could also be a wise inclusion in the man bag.
Taking a deodorant and a small travel size EDT with you on your daily routine can help you quickly and easily freshen up at 5pm ready for after work drinks or a date you had planned, whilst it also makes a good impression with clients you are meeting throughout the day.
Just don’t go overboard, no one wants to smell a man that has obviously just tried to cover up his BO with half a can of Lynx – you just want to distract their attention, not fill their noses.
Top Tip: The travel atomiser showcased below is a great investment for this purpose, allowing you to pour in your favourite fragrance for a handy travel sized companion that can be taken to work, the gym and everywhere else inbetween.
There are many things you could put in your man bag and the above is just an example of what I think are the truly essential items for you to carry around every time you leave the house. However, what YOU deem essential will decide exactly what you pack in; on any given day I might take:
The man bag is an essential part of the modern male’s wardrobe; they provide practicality, security and add a whole new dimension to an outfit. Pick your bag carefully for its style, purpose and suitability and you won’t go wrong – but it doesn’t hurt to have more than one.
Let me know what you keep in YOUR man bag in the comments below.
As this article is over a year old, the comments are now closed.
If you have a specific question about one of the points raised in the article, why not join our free fashion & style forum and start a thread? The FashionBeans community will always do their best to help you out, and our writers also frequent the forums regularly.
Alternatively, you can get in touch with us on our contact us page.