Like a cigarette burn on your knit or a toothpaste stain on your black jeans, a misjudged move with your bag is enough to bring your sartorial efforts crumbling down.
Most of us (in fact, a quarter of men according to fashion analysts at Mintel) now understand that carrying a bag isn’t emasculating. With everything from headphones to leftover chow mein to cart around, having some compact luggage to hand is a no-brainer.
What’s not as clear-cut, though, is how to make one look good. Carry the responsibility in style with our guide to the worst over-shoulder mistakes a man can make, and how to swerve them.
Mistake: Wearing The Wrong Bag With The Wrong Outfit
Most things have a time and a place (apart from three-quarter-length trousers; they just have a place: the bin). Bags are no different.
Your sleek leather tote works for the commute these days, but don’t cart it down to the shore on beach day. Similarly, your canvas backpack should never tarnish the shoulders of your work suit Monday to Friday.
Fix: Match Your Bag To Your Outfit
Not literally (leave the head-to-toe leather looks for ‘special interest’ clubs in Berlin). Instead, take the cue for your bag from your clothing.
While it’s no longer the case that briefcases and folios are solely for the office, and it’s perfectly possible to wear a backpack with a suit without looking like an overgrown man child, it’s worth considering the look and feel of what’s at the end of your arm.
Premium materials will always skew smarter than tactile canvas options. So whether you want to dress up or down, deploy accordingly.
Mistake: Underestimating The Importance Of Colour
In the world of business-casual, accessories with a bit of personality are like gold dust. A bold bag can bring new life to an old suit far better than any jazzy tie (shudder) ever could.
But what happens to that printed tote on days when you opt for a pair of contrast sole Derby shoes, or swap your standard two-piece for a Prince of Wales check? No one wants to spend an hour in the morning trying to avoid a clash. Or worse, not trying at all.
Fix: Basic Colours First, Crazy Stuff Later
Every well-dressed man knows that the secret to looking good is getting the basics right. In this case, that means ensuring you’re well-stocked with the every-occasion all-rounders in classic shades of tan, navy and black before anything else.
Once you’ve got the key colours to hand, level-up with louder bags in interesting colours and fabrics, like khaki and ballistic nylon, before graduating to the big leagues with prints and patterns that can be used to liven up an otherwise neutral outfit.
Mistake: A Bag Not Fit For Purpose
Slim, attractive and guaranteed to garner envious glances; no not Ryan Gosling, we’re talking about folios. The ideal way to bring your business documents to a big meeting or interview, they’ll leave you unencumbered by excess baggage and looking sharp AF. But any more than a few solitary sheets of A4 and it’ll quickly turn into a bulging mess.
Similarly, a tote is great for a short walk to the shops, but not so helpful on the commute when you’re trying to cling on to a coffee, the morning paper and rummage for your train ticket simultaneously.
Fix: Use Different Bags In Different Scenarios
Make practicality the priority. For an everyday bag that means making sure basic features like straps are just as much a part of your purchasing criteria as the look of the thing.
Straight-up utilitarian options – backpacks, holdalls, messenger bags – are always the safest options. But don’t write off handheld styles, as many feature detachable straps that can be neatly concealed when not in use. So, if the thought of toting a tote after a marathon session in the office no longer floats your boat, you can sling yours over your shoulder.
Mistake: Buying Faux Leather
We get it, the good stuff doesn’t come cheap, and some imitation versions look as good as the real McCoy. But if you can stretch to it, shelling out for genuine leather is an investment that will pay dividends in the long run.
Not only will you get a better build quality with a proper hide holdall, but it will also get better with age as the body softens and it develops its own unique patina.
Fix: Real Leather (It’s Not As Expensive As You Think)
There’s no need to sublet your flat and give up on food for a month to get your hands on a leather carrier. With the high street upping its game, it’s possible to find an affordable style without much of a premium.
If the weekend bag you want costs more than a weekend away, it’s worth scanning pre-owned and off-price designer sites like eBay, Grailed and Vestiaire Collective, which are often stacked full of genuine leather bags looking for a good home.
Mistake: Choosing A Bag Without Compartments
We’re in the business of fashion, so it would be hypocritical for us to tell you that it’s only what’s on the inside that counts. But when it comes to bags, looking good and having a bit of substance are both important.
Why should you be looking at the interior of your new carrier when that pebble grain body looks so goddamn handsome? Well, because, a pebbled grained body with gum, loose change, paper and all manner of unidentified objects floating around inside becomes a Tardis when you just want to find your house keys.
Fix: Find A Style That Fits Your Everyday Essentials
Men are (apparently) good at compartmentalising our feelings, so take some of those cerebral partitioning skills and set them to work inside your bag.
As a minimum, look for side pockets that keep the essentials within easy reach. If it’s a work bag you’re after, additional storage for keeping files and the occasional dodgy dossier are wise, as are funk-containing trainer compartments in a gym bag.
Mistake: Not Treating Suede And Leather
Bags are one of man’s under-appreciated companions. They’ll pull their weight with all your bits and bobs on board, but often get little by way of love in return for their service.
If you’ve opted for a hardy canvas example, then you’re probably fine to leave your luggage to get on with the rough and tumble, but suede and leather versions will start showing signs of neglect pretty quickly if they’re not given due attention.
Fix: Regular Maintenance And Care
As any doctor worth the paper their Hippocratic Oath is printed on will tell you, prevention is better than cure. That means carrying out regular TLC sessions with leather and suede bags to prevent the onset of terminal damage.
Suede bags should be brushed to ensure that minor debris doesn’t become a long-distance traveller and to keep the nap soft and supple. Meanwhile, leather bags will retain their lustre and sidestep cracking with the help of a quality leather conditioner.
Mistake: Bag Too Sunken Or Stuffed
There are few words in the English language less attractive than ‘saggy’. Which makes it all the more important to ensure you’re not seen carrying a near-empty bag that looks like a deflated balloon.
A bulging, wrecking ball of a holdall is not the solution, either. A bag is intended to keep hold of your essentials, not cart around the kitchen sink. So aim to hit the sartorial sweet spot.
Fix: Bulk Up Or De-junk
De-junking on a weekly basis can help save a bag from turning into a boulder. Bin any old magazines, last week’s Tupperware (shame on you), and if you have no intention of going to the gym, leave the Lycra in its drawer at home.
To stave off the dreaded sag, it’s never a bad idea to carry around a few lightweight layers that can be piled on or peeled off when needed. An umbrella is rarely a waste of space, either. But don’t just throw another hoodie in with yesterday’s overshirt and last Tuesday’s lunch.