A Guide to Bags for Men
Of all the accessories for men, perhaps the one that gets the most attention and mileage are finely crafted and constructed leather bags.
Leather bags for men come in all shapes and sizes and you might not know the difference between them, what they are used for and which ones are right for you.
Join me as we explore this wonderful world - you are sure to encounter at least one style of bag that you’ll want to include in your life.
Why Men Should Own Leather Bags
At the most basic level, a high-quality leather bag holds and protects your property, helps you transport things, and makes your life easier. They can also help you showcase your personal style, and add a handsome accent to even the most basic looks.
When choosing a bag, ask yourself what you need it for.
Are you tired of your old gym bag and want an upgrade? Go for a duffle.
Do you like to travel? Then a weekender is a must-have.
Do you need one to hold important documents and use for work? A briefcase will solve that problem.
Are you always on the go, or like to travel light? Then a backpack will fit you perfectly.
If you are an avid bicyclist or simply like the more “bohemian” look, then opt for a cool messenger bag.
Stay with me as we get into more specifics of these styles...
Duffle bags, or duffel bags, have a long history. Originating in the 17th century in the Belgian town of Duffel, the special cotton cloth made there was used primarily for ship’s sales. The scraps were then sewn into seaworthy bags for the sailors to keep their belongings in.
Centuries later, the British and American military adopted the duffel bag as their own before it found its way to the civilian population where it has maintained a foothold ever since.
Over the years, the duffel bag has been made from cotton, canvas, nylon, polyester and leather. Whatever the material, the bag has to be roomy, strong and durable.
You might think that duffel bags are used primarily for going to the gym, and you might be right. Given their original purpose, they are utilitarian to be sure, and are sometimes called “gym bags.” This type of bag can also be used to carry different types of gear, equipment, tools and act as a piece of travel luggage.
Generally speaking, duffel bags have cylindrical shape and feature shoulder straps. Others will have a squarish or triangular shape. The most important thing is the volume of your duffel bag. You want there to be enough room to curry all of your things, but not have it be too bulky or cumbersome. The shoulder strap should also be adjustable so that you can find the correct fit for your body, whether carrying it cross body or over one shoulder. Ideally there will also be handles for an alternative way of carrying it.
Our Domingo Duffel Bag, for example, has a deep and wide main compartment, and an exterior zipped pocket. The wide nylon shoulder strap sits comfortably on your shoulder and can be adjusted, and has enough length to be carried cross body. The leather handles of Domingo can be securely enclosed within a leather clasp for ease of carrying. Additionally, the solid brass buttons, hooks, rings and zippers won’t ever break, warp or come apart.
Constructed in either soft calfskin leather or textured pebbled leather and available in a variety of colors, the Domingo looks especially great with your gym clothes and casual wear. But, it won’t look out of place when you are wearing your nicer outfits.
Think of weekender bags as a merging of a duffel bag and a small suitcase. Weekender bags tend to have a square shape, but they can also be triangular when closed. Like the duffel bag, weekenders should offer plenty of interior volume for the safe carrying of your things.
Weekenders were first created to be the bag you use when going away on a quick trip. But, they can also be used for longer journeys, especially if you pack light. As you can see with the Davis Weekender, there should be a large interior compartment that allows you to pack your clothes without cramping them. You should also be able to fit at least one or two pairs of shoes and your devices. The Davis includes a convenient and secure zipped interior and exterior pockets. All of the solid brass hardware and solid stitching ensure the entire construction will stay together.
The shoulder strap and grippy handles provide two options for carrying the Davis. This weekender bag looks great with sporty duds, dressy looks and everything in between.
Even though people have been hauling things on their backs probably for as long as there have been people, there is some question as to the actual origin of the backpack. Some credit must be given to Gerry Outdoors which put out the first zippered backpack. This version remained popular with outdoor enthusiasts until the same company created a lightweight nylon backpack in 1967. But it was another brand that came to dominate the backpack trade when university students started using their smaller, highly durable daypacks to lug around books and school supplies.
That was it. By the time the 1980s rolled around, backpacks were a standard-issue school necessity. That said, the backpack has never lost favor with travelers, and indeed, entire branches of the travel industry have been built around the so-called “backpacker.”
A well-constructed backpack, like our Logan Backpack, is an essential accessory for any lifestyle. They are extremely convenient and can go just about anywhere. Backpacks are purposefully made to be lightweight yet durable, with enough room to carry books, documents, clothes and devices. Since a backpack is made to literally be worn on your back, it should be balanced, and the straps should be adjustable to fit your body.
When you are considering a backpack, make sure it is constructed from durable materials such as full-grain leather. Backpacks should be minimally designed, highly functional and comfortable for the long haul. After all, backpacks have traditionally been used for trekking and as an easy way to travel.
The Logan stands apart from other backpacks as is immediately evident with the quilted back panel. This makes it so much more comfortable than a rigid or shapeless construction. The adjustable leather straps allow you to make the fit as loose or as tight as you need, and the leather handle at the top is another convenient way of managing it.
Two convenient exterior side pouches are perfect for carrying bottles, a thermos or even a rolled-up newspaper. The back compartment has enough space for your laptop, tablet or notebooks, as does the front compartment. This area can also be used for storing light clothes, documents, devices or other personal items. Additionally, the exterior zipped pocket is a convenient area for your phone, keys and other things you need immediate access to.
You might be able to get away with using a professional looking backpack as an alternative to a briefcase for business. But it’s not recommended that you wear it with your suits. However, you can always be comfortable wearing your backpack with casual clothes, shorts and some more dressy attire.
Messenger bags have been around for decades, if not centuries, in one form or another. Also known as satchels, courier bags and carryalls, it is believed that this type of bag started life as a way for foot messengers in ancient times to carry their missives, Pony Express riders had their own version for carrying mail great distances. It naturally follows that postal workers use them too, as do bike messengers. Makes sense. Messenger bags have generous volume, are sturdy, durable and put up with the wear-and-tear of the road.
In the mid-1980s, the nylon messenger bag was given something of a makeover which catapulted it into the mainstream. Since then, it has seen several iterations and has been made out of different materials.
In contrast to a backpack, messenger bags can be slung over one shoulder and easily shifted to the front of your body which makes it more convenient to access what’s inside. And, those made of full-grain leather, like our Gaston Messenger Bag, have a professional look that is appropriate for casual use and business.
The Gaston has been deliberately designed to honor the origin of this style, but with a contemporary sensibility. A deep main compartment easily holds your laptop or tablet, books and documents. An exterior front pocket is perfect for the things you need immediate access to. The substantial flap secures easily with solid brass buckles. Of course there is an adjustable shoulder strap for convenient carrying which can be removed if you want to use the secure leather handle instead.
Since the Gaston is suitable for business (especially without the strap) you can use it when wearing your finest suits. Or, relax in your most casual outfit and hit the road.
It is understandable if when you hear the word “briefcase” you imagine a bulky, heavy, suitcase kind of thing wielded by stodgy businessmen. But, it wasn’t until relatively recently that this style of bag became part of the uniform.
Also called an attaché case, the origins of the briefcase can actually be traced back to ancient Rome. It was a type of reinforced leather satchel used primarily for carrying foodstuffs and personal belongings. Jump ahead to the Napoleonic Wars, and we see soldiers using a mashup of a backpack and a briefcase called the haversack. Further down the timeline, from 1860 to 2010, a particularly red briefcase was held up in front of 10 Downing Street in London (the Prime Minister’s residence and office) on budget day to display the financial strength of the nation.
The briefcase got its name because lawyers would use the case to carry briefs to and from court. Makes sense, right? But lawyers weren’t the only ones to use this style of bag. It was adopted by business people of all stripes during the 1950s as an essential and useful accessory.
Briefcases have come to symbolize many things, such as success, upward mobility, power and entrepreneurship. They have also become an important part of rites-of-passage, often given to young adults when they embark upon their professional lives.
I remember my parents gifting a beautiful burgundy briefcase to my sister when she was about to enter nursing school. One of our customers recently gave the Sullivan Briefcase to their assistant when he graduated with his Juris Doctorate degree. No doubt the young attorney is getting a lot of use out of it.
Briefcases need to be well-constructed, secure, discreet and attractive. The Sullivan Briefcase is made from buttery soft, durable full-grain calfskin leather and provides ample room in the main compartment for all of your documents, books and even a laptop or tablet. A YKK zipper opens and closes like a breeze, and stays closed so you can be sure your items are secure.
The buttoned exterior pocket is perfect for storing things you need immediate access to, such as your phone and travel documents. An adjustable shoulder strap and firm leather handles give you two easy carrying options.
The Sullivan was designed to be professional yet relaxed so you can wear it comfortably with your power suits or casual duds.
Dopp kits, like the Nieto, are an essential part of anyone’s travel gear. They keep your toiletries, medicine and other essentials organized and accessible. You can even use yours at home. The Nieto fits neatly inside your weekender or duffel bag, and always look great no matter where you are.
How to Identify a Quality Leather Bag
Much like leather shoes, you can spot a quality leather bag by using all of your senses (well, maybe not taste).
Start by smelling the item. Leather has a distinct scent which imitation leather simply does not emit. True, the scent of leather might be obscured by the tint, but you should still be able to tell
Then, look at the grain. Full-grain leather is skin afterall and the real deal should look like skin. You might even detect some minor blemishes and imperfections unique to that hide. They could be wrinkles, bug bites, scarring which make your leather bag one-of-a-kind. Artificial or corrected grain leather doesn’t have any of these special markings.
Run your hand along the bag. Full-grain leather is soft, warm and pliable. Over time it will also develop a beautiful patina. Artificial leather feels rigid, plasticky, cool and rigid. And, it won’t develop a patina.
Full-grain leather absorbs dyes, creams and polishes easily whereas faux-leather isn’t able to because it is not an organic material.
As you feel the leather, try to detect if it makes any noises. A squeaky sound indicates that it is fake. Full-grain leather doesn’t make noise.
Caring for Leather Bags
Even though well-constructed leather bags can withstand a lot of wear and tear, and don’t really ask to be handled with kid gloves, you can still treat them to some TLC.
As I wrote in my article What is Full-Grain Leather?, taking care of your leather goods is pretty easy and should be done on a regular basis to keep the leather supple, conditioned and clean.
“At the most basic level, you can clean off surface dirt with a soft brush or a rag. You can remove light scuff marks and some stains with a solution of diluted soapy water and a clean cloth, then blot it dry with a separate cloth. Then, let the leather air dry.
Never dry your leather goods with a blowdryer, a heater, in the microwave or a conventional oven. Not only is it dangerous, it can cause permanent damage to the leather. Natural sunlight can also damage the leather.
Always make sure your full-grain garments are completely dry before storing them in an area free of humidity and mold.
Stay away from harsh cleaners and saddle soap. Instead you’ll want to use a high-end leather cream and conditioners to maintain the integrity of your items, and extend the longevity. Then use a cloth and / or soft-bristle brush to buff the leather up to the desired shine.”
Now that you know the difference between the bag styles you are ready to select yours. Not only will a well-constructed bag last your lifetime, they make wonderful legacy items that can - and should be - passed down from generation to generation.
With each owner a new level of patina will develop, enriching the bag with their memories and history. Be sure to check out our collection and leave a comment below to let me know what bag styles you like and how you will use them.
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