In the yesteryears, the high-end black leather briefcases had an aristocratic appeal to it and was an aspirational asset. However, the present day working class heroes, prefer something that closely suits their persona beyond their workspace and eschew the customary briefcase. If there is one bag that stood the test of time – from the carryall, to the poacher’s pouch and the satchel – it is the messenger bag, also known as the man bag. This quintessential design of one-strap being slung over the shoulder suits the need of every man be it young or old. While it is timeless, it has also evolved to match up with the rigours of the newfangled life. From the dudes from the Roman legionnaires, to the army medics, to electronic repair men, all of them donned these bags. Letter carriers extensively used these, initially atop horses and more recently on bicycles, from which the ‘messenger’ nomenclature was derived.
The core aspect which sets a messenger design apart is its multi-functionality.The years of trends, waxing and waning has led to the culmination of The Man Bag. Therefore, there is a remarkable history behind today’s sleek briefcase that fits the personality of the new age man.
The Roman loculus was created out of a single goat or calf leather hide. It was closest to a briefcase found in the 1st to 3rd centuries. Loculus, was about 18 by 20 inches in size and was highlighted with built up diagonal leather straps that met in the center with a bronze ring. It was suspended at the top two ends with two bronze rings and a shoulder strap or bar.
Ascending to the 15th century, when pockets inside the clothing was a rare sight to see. Delicate and important pieces such as books, letters, documents and religious relics had to be particularly well protected in bags. Around 1599, the satchel bags were renowned, this insight was reflected in Shakespeare’s work ‘As You Like It,’ describing a whining schoolboy, with his satchel.
Soon after, bag designs began to transform and proliferate. There were smaller bags with drawstrings for money, larger bags with metal clasps and leather satchels. A hip belt of a girdle with only a few shoulder straps was worn as a convention. Leather reigned as the most used material, due to its longevity and availability. Sometimes woven fabrics or precious metals of gold and silver embroidery found a place in the hands of the elite. In the 16th century, gentlemen from the nobility used peculiar goatskin man bags with 18 secret compartments to brag about. It was so well crafted that it is still utilized even today. It was a gentleman’s secret pied-à-terre.
The dawn of the Renaissance saw handbags become even more luxurious and versatile. Due to the lack of hygiene during this era, both men and women often wore small pouches attached to their clothing, filled with sweet-smelling herbs and spices to conceal body odor. They were referred to as ‘swette bagges’. Several paintings denote peasants and travelers carrying cross-body bags, signaling the early origin of the messenger-style bag. Bags became an element of extravagance for aristocrats and royalty during this period.
Around the turn of the 17th century, pockets began to be sewn into clothing bringing a wave of convenience that left man bags in the dust. Slowly men began to shed bags for pockets. Since the use of railroad had commenced, train travel demanded that the bags be sturdy and etiquette demanded they be stylish. Thus, marked the beginning of golden age of leather handbags. The elite class donned briefcases while traveling and became even more common amongst doctors and the working white-collar class of lawyers or barristers. Briefcases found their niche among British bureaucrats. Until it was pulled out in 2010, the infamous ‘red briefcase’ was utilised, holding the British budget papers on Budget Day. However, the elaborately crafted tapestry bags and briefcases didn’t float out of existence at a point in time, its basic form still existed in the letter cases which were meant for keeping important documents.
Early Twentieth Century:
After the advent of the railroad, and the growing availability of diverse materials, man bags as an accessory emerged in the 20th century. This era saw the generation of still-popular brands Hermes and Louis Vuitton. These bags transcended the traditional hand held bags to leather shoulder bags, to minaudiere; they were designed for the new lifestyles that the railroad created. At the same time, they retained handcrafted personalization, such has hand-painted names or initials. However, the beginning of World War II saw bags become larger and more utilitarian. The shoulder bags, the most recognizable ancestor of the modern-day messenger bag, demonstrated the need for practicality as well as the restrained availability of materials due to the war strain.
The Late Twentieth Century Fashion Revolution:
1950’s was a time that focused on elegance and sophistication. Youth-centric style turned more towards ethnic or exotic influences, such as fabric shoulder bags, handmade products that revered unique craftsmanship during the rise of the counterculture in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The fashion rebellions of the 1980’s and 1990’s, demonstrated the origin of what would later become a diverse outlook of personal accessories that transcend for both style and usage.
Today, our lives have become the most mobile due to the technological revolutions that we are witnessing. We are now driven by comfort. In terms of modern menswear, the eminence of the messenger bag lies in its versatility. Since its inception, the messenger has matured handsomely, from the ancient ancestors to the modern handbag. It’s not as stiff and bulky as a briefcase and doesn’t feel antiquated. It’s still a classier shift from a backpack, and looks more grown-up and sophisticated. The sleeker leather used, gives it a luxe look. From a student, to an artist on the go, a working professional or just an urbane dude, there’s a lot to love in the now-timeless combination of functionality, style and self-expression – The Man Bag.