Let’s Reconsider the Messenger Bag

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The traditional messenger bag is the most unattractive of all unattractive carryalls. It appears to be unwieldy, continuously weighed down by lead pencils, stacks of notebooks, and a large, half-empty water bottle.

Certainly not thrilling. On a night out, you’d never wear it unless you’re heading directly from the library to cocktails. Even then, you’d dash home to swap it out.

Despite these extremely unglamorous connections, the messenger bag seems like a blank slate for the official return. If you’re carrying items such as your laptop to work, this is your best choice for a reliable backpack that keeps your hands free to grip the subway pole or type an email on your phone.

Let's Reconsider the Messenger Bag -  Steven Meisel, Vogue, December 2002
Let’s Reconsider the Messenger Bag – Steven Meisel, Vogue, December 2002

The greatest messenger bags, boosted by luxurious fabrics such as leather and suede, exude a groovy ’60s atmosphere that’s all casual and easy. The item saw a renaissance in the early 2000s, as highlighted by writer Jenny Comita in the January 2002 edition of Vogue. She refers to them as the “coolest babysitter’s bag.” “And she thought canvas school bags were totally unimaginative. Rather than that, she slid her shoulder under the strap of a large, slouchy carryall that was invariably brimming with gum wrappers, clove cigarettes (shh, don’t tell your mother), and tubes of strawberry lip balm,” Comita says. The fictitious satchel-toting devil-may-care babysitter finally earned a degree from Stanford Business School. Breezy!

On the runways, it was seen on models Audrey Marnay and Maggie Rizer, who paired the leather purse with a basic dark green turtleneck (possibly cashmere!) sweater during the Michael Kors–era Celine fall 2002 show. The bag made another appearance at Chanel’s spring 2015 collection, which drew inspiration from France’s May 1968 social upheaval. Karl Lagerfeld’s then-creative director whipped up Army green messenger bags covered in graffiti and frayed tweed, alluding to hippie-dippie connotations.

The messenger bag is gradually making a comeback in the 2020s as well. Gabriela Hearst paired fringe-tastic and woven messenger bags with ponchos and knit long-sleeve shirts in the colors of a Southwestern desert sunset for the fall 2021 Chloé presentation. That same season, Balenciaga introduced a black nylon messenger bag in the style of the one you might find next to a gamer, but with the house’s name imprinted on the flap. The internet is brimming with robust Louis Vuitton monogrammed messenger bags, as well as pared-down Prada counterparts in black nylon. As we reenter the world, the possibilities are limitless. Additionally, being hands-free is usually an attractive appearance.