Just 20 years back, we lived in a world where Joey Tribbiani wearing a “man bag” was deemed worthy of a whole 30 minutes of comedy jibes and canned laughter. To be a man carrying anything other than a briefcase or a gym bag was to flag yourself as somehow less macho, opening yourself up to ridicule from friends, family and anyone else with so much as a passing interest in your accessory game.
Today, thankfully, the types of bags available for men is an altogether different market. Those mates who would have once seen you hung out to dry at the pub for showing up with a messenger bag (“What’s in there? Your makeup?”) are now proudly strutting about town with their leather backpacks and cross-body bags.
The latest luggage trend showcases the shift perfectly. Chest packs, harnesses and holsters are the new fashion heavyweights where bags are concerned. Strapped across the chest or shoulder, these hands-free pouches are big enough to store the average guy’s daily supplies (phone, keys wallet) and visible enough to make a bold fashion statement. And they owe it all to that manliest of things – the military.
From buzz cuts to bomber jackets and everything in between, the military has long armed menswear with some of its most powerful weapons. But where designers have always relied on the past for inspiration, this new trend for utilitarian bags gives a nod to garments worn on the modern-day battlefield instead.
“It all stems from service uniform,” explains Joshua Meredith, a freelance stylist and former fashion director at Notion magazine. “Alyx was one of the first, if not the first fashion brand to introduce chest packs into mainstream fashion, with the likes of ASAP Rocky, Kanye West and Skepta all wearing them.”
For those not yet familiar with Alyx, it’s possibly the most hyped new label around. Founded by former music-industry creative and Virgil Abloh collaborator Matthew Williams, the brand burst onto the scene with its chest-hugging bags that fasten around the back and shoulders. Kind of like an Action Man-approved crop top.
To Meredith, this is a natural progression from some of the smaller men’s bags that have become popular over the past few years. “I feel it’s an extension but also a more innovative take on the men’s side bag, but taking it one step further and allowing it to become part of the outfit rather than simply an accessory.
“The trend really started to take off after Dior’s collaboration with Alyx, as the iconic Dior Saddle bag was resurrected with an Alyx twist – the perfect mix of high fashion and streetwear.”
What’s even more surprising is that this new class of accessory isn’t just being worn with camo jackets and streetwear but suiting too. Dior and Louis Vuitton are two high-end fashion houses designing holsters and chest rigs designed to be worn over a shirt (like a 1980s cop) or even over a suit jacket. See how Timothée Chalamet and Michael B Jordan tooled up for the red carpet above.
It’s undoubtedly a divisive look, and one still dominated by high-end brands charging high-end prices (though the high street will undoubtedly follow soon). For now, if you’re curious, these are the labels to check out.
The Best Brands For Holsters And Chest Packs
It’s not a stretch to claim that had streetwear-meets-high-fashion ‘it’ brand Alyx never existed, the current trend for military-inspired luggage may not have happened.
Alyx’s ‘chest rig’ bag was the garment that kicked it all off, featuring a large pouch worn across the chest and fixed in place by straps that reach over the shoulders and around the back.
When they said trail running shoes would be the next big thing in fashion we all laughed…until it actually happened. It’s not just the shoes now either. If you spot someone out and about sporting wraparound shades, an elevation mask and a running chest pack, it’s impossible to tell whether they’re heading out to train for a 250-mile ultra marathon, or attending a fashion week show.
Salomon makes some of the best technical trail-running (read: high-fashion) apparel around. And chest bags are no exception.
Like Alyx, London label A-Cold-Wall is another one taking the fashion world by storm. Which is thanks in no small measure to its innovative take on the cross-body bag.
Using a safety-harness strap, A-Cold-Wall’s harness bag sits slightly below the chest but still offers the same utilitarian look. The bag is the brand’s most recognisable piece and a staple appearing throughout seasonal collections.
After starting life as an experimental line of jewellery, Ambush’s unique output soon saw it expand its range and score commissions from the likes of Louis Vuitton, Off-White, Undercover and Nike.
Following the wave of PVC tote bags that washed over the fashion landscape not so long ago, the label made headlines when it released an $88 paper version. But that’s not where Ambush’s foray into luggage ends. It also makes a rather slick-looking holster bag, featuring over-the-shoulder straps and a small pouch to either side of the chest.
At its core, Italian luxury sportswear label Stone Island has always been about experimentation. Whether that be through innovative use of fabrics, boundary-pushing design, or reimagining something as simple as a side bag.
Stone Island only has the one chest pack in its roster at the moment, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see more if the trend continues to snowball. Expect heavy military influence, iconic compass branding and plenty of street cred coming your way.
The design duo behind Inneraum view their line of futuristic bags more as sculptural art than fashion design, and you don’t have to be an art critic to see why.
These things look like they’ve been lifted straight from the props department of the latest Ridley Scott sci-fi blockbuster, boasting otherworldly looks and otherworldly prices to match. Of course, they’re probably not the kind of thing you can rock up to the office with. Well, unless you happen to work on an intergalactic spaceship from the year 5020.
If you’re looking to get involved in this trend on a tight budget, it can be a little tricky. High-street brands are, for once, a little late to the party, meaning if you don’t want to pay high-end prices, you have two options: a military surplus store, or Etsy.
There are plenty of sellers on the handmade, vintage and custom platform, pedalling chest packs and holsters that could put the heavy hitters to shame. And at a fraction of the price. Just make sure to pay attention to shipping costs and read reviews carefully.
Virgil Abloh is one of the key figures behind streetwear becoming the new high-fashion paradigm. So it was clear when he took the reins for menswear at Louis Vuitton, there was going to be some interesting luggage on the horizon.
He didn’t disappoint. The label’s harness bags have been some of the most talked-about pieces in fashion of late and been rocked by some of the world’s biggest stars. Granted, you’ll need to remortgage your house to get your shoulder in one. But when has dressing like billionaire rappers ever been affordable?
London-based Palmer Pouch’s offerings aren’t what you’d call cheap, but they’re still a damn sight more wallet friendly than 99.9% of the competition.
The brand prides itself of putting function before fashion, but its designers will still be happy to speak directly with you and tailor a bespoke bag to your exact specifications. Standard harness bags will set you back anywhere north of £100 but you’re guaranteed no one else will be able to jack your style.