The man purse is here to stay, and it’s time you fall in love with it

Get that bag, boy!

Harper's Bazaar India

Purses for men might seem like a modern phenomenon but, just like high heels, sartorial bags have been a fashion staple for men for a hot minute. Even Ötzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest natural mummy, carried a simple leather purse. Albeit, these ancient purses were primarily functional, unlike a baby pink Bottega Veneta tote that A$AP Rocky would carry today. Leather was a common material, and designs were often simple pouches with drawstrings for closure, typically tied around the waist or worn with a strap. Back at home, potlis were all the rage. Men of the Mughal Empire carried these elaborate pouches typically made of silk, adorned with intricate embroidery, and embellishments.

The invention of practical pockets in men’s clothing around the 17th century provided a convenient built-in carrying solution, but campy monarchs, like Louis XIV of France, still carried their purses with pride.
This coincided with the rise of fitted pants that wouldn’t work well with dangling purses. As clothing styles for men became more tailored, purses became associated with a bygone era and fell out of fashion, at least for the masses. France saw a separation between tailors (menswear) and seamstresses (womenswear), and through the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept of “masculine” and “feminine” clothing became even more defined. Laws against cross-dressing, created to target transgender, non-binary, and queer people, became more rigid. Even though this shift was mostly Eurocentric, it had a significant global influence. Men were suddenly more masc. And purses? Not so much.

Just as things were getting a little too segregated, the lines started blurring yet again in the true cyclical nature of fashion. The late 20th century saw unisex clothing come back to life, and women adopted traditionally “masculine” pieces like pants and blazers. Men began experimenting with accessories and patterns that were once deemed feminine. Queer rights movements around the world pushed to take down anti-cross-dressing laws. And many queer men, who have always dressed feminine as a form of self- expression, and a sign of resistance, served as a source of inspiration for global fashion labels. Designers Kim Jones reimagined the Dior Saddle, and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton made us question what bags men could carry. Gucci’s reintroduction of the Jackie 1961, with Harry Styles as the face of the campaign, gave the traditionally feminine purses a new look.

Once the likes of David Beckham were spotted carrying handbags, gender was over. When it came to purses at least. Pharrell Williams’ bags were quite the talk of the town. Paparazzi photographs of Jacob Elordi, with Celines and Diors slung over his shoulder, flooded Instagram feeds and magazine spreads. From actor Tusshar Kapoor’s Gucci Bengal Supreme to cricketer KL Rahul’s Fendi Black Romano, from actor Rajkummar Rao’s Louis Vuitton soft trunk to actor Ranveer Singh’s Gucci x Adidas crossbody: a well-thought- out bag was a sure-shot ticket to It boy status. Ask Jason Orlean (played by Jonah Hill), who insisted on carrying a Hermès Birkin, idolising his mother, President Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) in the film Don’t Look Up. Miranda Priestly would approve.

Earlier this year, as I was sitting through the shows at the fashion week in Mumbai, it was clear that the man’s bag was no longer an afterthought or a half-hearted gimmick. Shantnu & Nikhil showcased beautifully constructed purses for men that elevated each look, and Abhishek Gandhi’s All You Can Street didn’t shy away from extra-extra-large men’s totes. Ashita Singhal’s Paiwand kept hand-crafted textiles at the core and reimagined the bag for men. On international runways too, the man purse was present and powerful. John Elliott’s Fall 2024 menswear show featured smart silhouettes, but everyone was eyeing the bags on the ramp that the men carried with much finesse. For Dior’s Men’s Pre- Fall 2024 menswear edit, Kim Jones gave us bags galore: from handheld saddles to structured purses. The viral Coperni Air Swipe bag (made mostly out of—you guessed it—air) made a stellar appearance on a male model at their Fall 2024 ready-to-wear show.

The message is loud and clear. It is time to create a wardrobe that doesn’t begin and end with the gender you identify as, or the sex you were born into. That’s the future. Men, if you haven’t got yourself a purse yet, now would be a good time. And if you aren’t sure where to start, the nearest woman’s closet might be the perfect place to get that bag.

Designers Kim Jones reimagined the Dior Saddle, and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton made us question what bags men could carry.

Lead image credits: Amitava Saha

Also read: How to Birkin-fy your bags?

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