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Jul 31, 2013

Singing the Man Bag Blues

Friends, maybe it's me.

I like to carry a bag and I can't for the life of me find one I really like.

But let's back up.  When I was a kid, my Dad carried a briefcase.  He wasn't a businessman or a lawyer, but rather a teacher, but he still carried a briefcase.  It was this kind of thing:

Back then (the mid-Sixties) there were hard briefcases...

And softer, more expandable briefcases...

Off the Appalachian trail, you never saw a grown man with a knapsack (at least not in NYC).  I don't remember carrying a knapsack myself until high school.  In elementary school I think I used one of those wide rubber band things you tied around your books -- what were those called?  -- straight out of "Leave It To Beaver."  (In those days most kids didn't carry much more than a lunchbox and maybe a few notebooks.)

I think knapsacks became popular with non-hikers during the Seventies and obviously they're popular to this day.   I'll carry one if I go hiking or on a short trip, but to carry in the city every day, it's too casual for me.

Then there are all those messenger bags.  As I recall these became popular in the Nineties, along with other types of status men's (and women's) bags.  But I'm not the Prada-Gucci type.

A few years ago at the Salvation Army, I found a brand new black canvas Jack Spade messenger bag.  It's basically fine but I hate the huge velcro strips that make the bag very challenging (and loud) to open and close.  A latch would have been much better.

I also own this cheap Levi's denim bag, but it's too small and flimsy looking.

Another Salvation Army find is this L.L. Bean tote emblazoned with the words "AOL 5.0" which gives you an idea of its age.  I use it as a pool bag since it's always open, which works well for anything damp left in the bag like a swim cap or goggles.

I actually sewed a pocket inside so I wouldn't have to always dig for my gym lock.  It's starting to fray and look grimy (you can't really launder them) but I'm finding myself resistant to purchasing a replacement for some reason.

I found this little Patagonia bag in the trash; it had some company name embroidered on it which I removed with a seam ripper.  It's functional but I'm not a fan of Cordura nylon.  I know -- fussy.

I found this huge L.L. Bean leather tote at the flea market.  It's good for weekend trips but too big for every day, plus it has no compartments and you can't sling it over your shoulder or wear it across your chest.

The bag I carry most often was a gift from BurdaStyle a few years ago.  If I were to copy a bag, this would probably be it, perhaps in a sturdier canvas.  I prefer a deep vertical bag to those wide messenger bag shapes.  Plus the bag has both a strap and handles.

Up there in the running for Worst Purchase of 2013 (so far) is this Filson bag I bought on eBay.  In theory it's great: made in the USA, sturdy waxed canvas, heavy duty construction, a key hook (to latch your key ring onto), and outer pockets.  In reality it sucks: the bottom hangs too low for my height, so it drags on the ground if I carry it by the handles.  Over the shoulder, the wide, stiff nylon straps cut into my hands and don't sit comfortably, so I have to hold it on with my other hand.  I once wore it with my white linen pants and the wax canvas became covered with linen fuzz that not even a sticky roller will remove completely.  Oh, and a bit of the black dye rubbed off on my pocket edges; thankfully it came out in the wash.   I need to sell this bag.

Filson makes other bags, but they're hundreds of dollars.  I checked out the canvas bag below in a store and it weighs a ton without anything in it.  Not for me.

I like this Mood bag better than the black Filson.  But ultimately it's a shopping bag.

Perhaps by now you're thinking: Sew your own bag!   I have looked at patterns:

The closest I've ever come to sewing a bag was a sewing machine cover, which when you think about it is pretty similar.  But I did that with great reluctance (and no joy) merely to protect my Bernina.

In conclusion, friends, if you're a man or have a man in your life, what do you -- or he -- carry stuff around in?  Are you (or is he) the type who'd be satisfied with a disposable plastic grocery bag provided it did the job, or fussy like me (or maybe fussy in a different way)?

PS -- whatever happened to the hard attache case?

Have a great day, everybody!

(Before I forget: I'm away till Sunday.)


  1. Peter, I bought this Magellan's bag for my husband:

    It seems ergonomic to wear cross body in front or back, maybe this would work? Our travel guide in Egypt wore this all the time, he had all the cash to get entry tickets to everywhere, and it seemed pretty comfortable on him.

    Cherie in Phoenix

  2. If you have a bag that you already like, but don't like it's straps, why don't you purchase something like these D rings: and then this strap : Sew the D rings onto the sides of the bag and you've got yourself a bag with a longer strap. I'm sorry I can't find any American suppliers on Etsy of these, but I'm sure being in NY you'll probably be able to find them locally. You could even get different length handles and swap them out as you wish.

    As a bag maker myself, I'd just make myself a bag....but I understand you're not keen. Funny though, I've got a bookbag pattern due out towards the end of August that would probably be quite good for you if you did want to enter the murky world of bag making ;)

    1. P.s. sorry, I didn't realise quite how long those links were!

      I went back to get you shorter links and found a set with both components which would explain slightly better

    2. Just like sewing, browsing has some amazing shortcuts.

      Try to change a long link to a short one with a couple mouse clicks.

  3. My husband carried the hard case for years! I think he still has it. He always stuffs way too much in his briefcase and they always break.

    I agree that messenger bags can sometimes be too wide. And, yes, you should make yourself a bag! Maybe one that is longer but folds over at the top. I made Simplicity 2168 using an old wool coat. Maybe something a bit bigger would work for you. (

    Sew 4 Home has a number of bags - here is one:

    I will be interested to see what ideas pop up, but I thought you find so many amazing fabrics that upcycling one of them into a bag would work well for you.

  4. My husband loves his bag. I love the leather this bag is made from. The hardware on the bag is brass, and big, and will last forever. 100 stars for sturdy! I think you will love it ! you can design your own bag. They are a little pricey, but totally worth it. Have I told you I have too many sewing machines. ( I blame you!! )

  5. My husband used a softside carryon bag. I don't know what kind, but it has a couple main compartments and a couple outside pockets. It is wide, not tall though. When it finally died, I got him a Timbuktu bag. It is light when empty, and has lots of interior pockets. He misses the dual interior compartment.

    It isn't that hard to make your own bag pattern. I made a delightful messenger bag with exactly what I wanted in it. Of course I 'wouldn't-it-be-greated" myself into near insanity, but the bag is a work of art. The design process was:
    I'll make a simple messenger bag.
    Wouldn't it be great if it had a lining.
    Wouldn't it be great if the strap was padded.
    Wouldn't it be great if it had a second outside pocket.
    Wouldn't it look great if it had piping on all the seams.
    Wouldn't it be great if there were some inside pockets.
    Wouldn't it be great if there was a zipper that let the whole thing expand to double its size.

    The answer was yes it would!, but it required many trips back to the fabric store for supplies and a trip to the sewing machine fixit place when I ran over a pin while sewing through 10 layers of fabric.

    To make your own, look at bags you mostly like, sketch out the size of the panels you want to use, think through construction with the help of another bag's instructions, add your seam allowances to the pattern and you're practically done (except for that pesky sewing). :)

  6. I know where you can buy a bag that will probably meet your needs - you local specialty camera shop. Camera bags are high tech these days and look good too.

  7. Peter, MYO bag, Draft it yourself. PATTERNS??? Nevah!!
    My husband only takes a hard briefcase on business trips. He doesn't otherwise tote things round. Because he has ME and I have the World's Most Enormous Handbag which I adore because my Mum made it for me. So I get to put The Things into my handbag. Otherwise it's shopping things go into the shop bags.

  8. Perhaps you need to head to London? I have two bags I carry regularly, both from dear old Marks & Spencer. One is a smaller, messenger-style navy canvas (perfect for the ubiquitous iPad), and the other is a stouter tan rectangle with brown straps. Both are highly serviceable and, after several years of use, seem quite imperishable.

  9. I made my child a messenger bag from the Oliver and S book and they had a grown-up size as well...

  10. My guy uses a backpack (standard canvas, 2 pockets). For transporting tools and computers, he uses a duffle bag.

    I now only sew my own bags and I have made my own patterns, which is what I am suggesting for you (yes, I know I sound like Dear Abby. Love her!). I wouldn't be able to find a bag pattern that suits all of my needs which is why I make my own pattern, usually combining different aspects from other bags. It's very satisfying to not only make your own bag but from your own mind. Please give it a try!

  11. I always go back to the Backpack option because it's so practical without risking dislocating one of my shoulders when I carry all my stuff including a large bottle of water. I bought one recently made of jeans canvas which I decorated with all sorts to make it more me I guess

  12. I have an old green one just like's 15 years old and still going strong.

    1. I love my Land's End. They meet most of the criteria you hsve and last forever.

  13. I took and old leather jacket of my husbands and made a simple tote bag from it. I usedthelining to line the bag. The jacket had several inside pockets and I used those on the inside and outside of the bag. Old belt for the handles which I riveted on. Works great for everyday trips. Steady and very functional. Check out etsy there's a site on ther that the women makes beautiful bags out of old men's suit jackets.

  14. Those were bookstraps.

    You must be related to my mother--she is forever looking for the ideal bag. I've tried to tell her that it's a moving target unless she designs and makes it herself.

  15. I actually don't like man bags, but the closest look that I seem to like is a messenger bag. Can't find one, make it...your a guru of drafting !!

  16. an old boyfriend made his own - a backpack, out of cordura nylon - but exactly to his own specifications.

  17. My husband won't use any bags but grocery bags. My brothers, on the other hand, all have leather attaches, messenger bags, backpacks, camera bags, and canvas and leather totes. A male friend carries a smallish, lined leather bag that was a lucky thrift store find. (Has a very posh label, as I recall.)

    BTW, I've had pretty good luck washing canvas totes from LL Bean and Land's End. The color from the dyed straps will run a bit but I use a color-catcher laundry sheet (from Shout?) and a cool water wash and they come out looking pretty good.

  18. I am a huge fan of Nicole Mallalieu's bag patterns (and a disclosure - I also know her in real life). They are like a sewing class in a pattern, and there is a great variety of patterns and options within each pattern. I'm sure that there would be something in her range that you like - and Pattern Review stocks them.
    I reckon the Carry-All, Laptop, Large Tote & Satchel, and Beach patterns would all be of interest to you!

  19. I'm using one of my Mood totes as my gym bag right now!

  20. Okay, so it's probably not worth mentioning my husband's work bag - an army digital camouflage backpack, stuffed with all kinds of crap. But he's army and it matches his uniform and they have very few options in regard to what they're allowed to carry.

    That said, he likes my favorite bag - a classic European school bag in natural leather that manages to be both soft-sided and still stiff enough to have structure (but not like a hard attaché case). It has both a shoulder strap (adjustable) and backpack straps plus a top handle and has plenty of room for lots of books, notebooks and a laptop. I bought it to replace one I'd gotten at a flea market when visiting family in Rotterdam - that bag was well worn but managed to survive college and grad school before I overloaded it so much that the strap gave out and the inner pocket tore, and even then I still used it for a while longer. The replacement bag- my current one-was purchased in Germany. It's made by RuiterTassen - a Dutch company that makes excellent hard-wearing bags. Mine is very similar to this one: The nice part is that you can both unbuckle the front straps or unclip them without unbuckling them. I used it primarily for teaching, but it makes an excellent carry-on bag for travel, and it looks chic, too. They cost more than I would normally be willing to pay for a bag but they last a really long time. I think I paid 99 euros for mine, but it was a clearance item, since it was the end of the season.

  21. If you like the Mood bag so much, then not draft your own patterns from it and change a few things. I bet you probably don't even need to make the patterns.

  22. Your Burda bag is a Baggu bag-- around $20, comes in virtually every color and easily holds a day's worth of whatever you're carrying. Everyone I know who has one loves it.

  23. Perhaps you can consider Burda patterns 8325 and 7158. You could also see if "Sew Serendipity Bags" by Kay Whitt would be something to add to your sewing library. The book includes full size patterns and a lot of helpful pictures and techniques. I like the book and it would be easy for you to create your ideal bag from the patterns and ideas provided.

  24. My husband carries around a black kinda-sorta soft briefcase with all his work papers in it. And for swimming, he's been toting around the same Navy-issue duffle bag since I can't remember when. And we've been married 22 years.
    I had the same bag issues recently looking for something to use when travelling. All I wanted was a soft bag that was big enough to hold my things including an SLR camera, that I could wear across my body and that didn't have any logos on it (seriously, those guys should be paying us to do their mobile advertising for them, not vice versa). It took me weeks to find anything remotely suitable.

  25. Not a guy, but this bag would probably be ok for either persuasion.

    For biking around town, I made my own messenger bag, and the second time making one resulted in a bag I love: Cordura bag. No velcro what-so-ever, and the interior is recycled soda bottle fabric. Something like this would work well in waxed canvas, too, instead of cordura.

  26. well my dad uses a a black funny back or a black leather briefcase when he does seminars but nothing else. Even tho I am not a guy backpacks are the way to go for ,because one shoulder bags hurt my shoulders really quickly.
    P.s.I I have tried to make my own bags and it is either a hit or miss

  27. Ater 10 years living in France, I don't go out without a bag. A bag has become indispensable. It is impossible now, as well as unsightly, to carry around all of todays personal items. (Of course once you start, the items breed and multiply.) In the beginning, not having the bag habit, I would leave it everywhere - the train, the restaurant, etc. Now it has finally become a reflex and enough of an appendage that I notice when it is not attached to my shoulder. Alas, finding the right bag is a periodic problem since they wear out or you decide the one you have is too funky or too pretentious, or too "feminine". So good, and here's hoping you find or make something great that I can copy or find and avoid looking for the next one. The leather one I use now is too heavy even before the phone, the keys, the computer, the wallets, the measuring tape, the ... the ...

  28. My man wears a backpack. Like...evrywhere. Or if there is a day he is in no mood for a backpack, he wears cargo pants and trust me those pockets can fir a lot!

    My best guy friend wears a military medical bag. He has it in every color possible and switches them acording to the mood LOL!

    My brother carries his wife handbag, since the only time he is allowed out of the house is when his wife wants to go out. Sad and funny but true. OR he carries a huge ass diaper bag, he has twin daughters.

    Have you taken a look at "Bag'n'telle" ( ) blog or the "Weekend Designer" ( )
    Bag'n'telle is dedicated to bag making! and I think this in a smaller size would look great on you!(In your hands? or Over your shoulder)

    I recently made my first bag based on dirrections I found on Bag'n'telle

  29. hah, my fiance has the same problem. We solved it when we were in Morocco and he found a perfect leather bag in the tanneries in Fes (not overwhelmingly helpful for you I admit). It is basically like your Jack Spade messenger bag but in buttery soft leather and with a clasp rather than velcro and a few interior pockets. Biggest problem was that we had to hang in in the shed for 6 months before he could use it - the tanneries being famous for their pungent smell!

  30. Have you seen the amazing range at

    Their bags have titles like "The moderate embarrassment" and "Barney Rustle"

    In fact, I think the Barney Rustle may suit you :)

    I have a Moderate Embarrassment - in lime green and bright orange, and it is AWESOME.

    These bags are not cheap, but they also come with a "Death do us part" warranty -


    Not just ‘a’ warranty, but the Legendary Crumpler ‘Til Death Do Us Part’ Warranty!

    If your Crumpler bag fails as a result of defective materials or workmanship under normal use while you: a) draw breath and b) remain the bag’s owner, we’ll repair or replace the part(s) in question – no questions asked. Just drop your bag off at a Crumpler Store or mail your bag to a Crumpler HQ, postage paid, together with your proof of purchase and a short note to explain the problem. We’ll make it right and send it back to you ASAP.

    I use mine every single day, and it looks brand new - after 8 years.

  31. Bags are fun to sew and most machines can handle leather if its not too thick. Lambskin is as easy to sew as fabric with a teflon foot and a leather needle. Drafting a pattern from your favorite Burdastyle bag might be a possibility. Pacific Trim on 38th street has tons of great bag hardware. I've found the biggest challenge with making a bag is the inner structure because factory made bags use interfacings that are not really available in retail.

  32. The man in my life is fussy about bags. Having spent many hours looking for the "right" one, he finally found it at Crumpler. He has two (both crossbody styles) - a smallish one for getting around town, and a larger one for travel.

    He's now a Crumpler devotee. It doesn't hurt that it's an Aussie brand - like us :)


  33. I have a bag that I got at a symposium. It was all black on the inside (think black hole! ) So I sewed a lining our of some yellow solid fabric and added some inside pockets. I have other bags but it is my "everyday" bag. That said, it is super easy to make your own bag and you don't really need a pattern. I have made several bags and purses. I just make them up as I go.

  34. I love the vertical bag! I made one but haven't yet splurged on a leather one. Otherwise I carry a small saddle-bag purse. My favorite man bag was worn by an actor I worked with named Ron Wisniski, and was a copy of a postal carrier bag made by J. Peterman. It was leather that had just gotten better in the 5 years or so that he'd had it. Definitely not made to be carried by a woman though, I pretty much could have fit inside it!

  35. Look at your bag collection with modification/customization in mind. Why don't you convert the Jack Spade velcro to the latches you really want? It's an easy fix.

    Confession time: I have countless bag patterns. Searching in vain for perfection

  36. In thquilting world, a lot of people are making Amy Butler's Weekender bag. A friend recently made a "manly" version for her spouse. Check it out I hear they are easy, quick, and modifiable.

  37. If I were in your place - for a short term solution, rip the velcro off the Jack Spade bag since that seems to be the issue. Then start copying the Burdastyle bag.

    Currently, I use a tote bag bought at Barnes & Noble, I liked the artwork on it. But the handles are a tad too long - the bag almost drags on the ground, and I'm on the tall side. Fixing that is on my "to do" list. I also have the canvas briefcase from Land's End. It's taken a lot of abuse and still looks good. Other than the teal color which screams 80's.

  38. Hubs has a canvas brief case, strap and handle. We've had it for years. In fact, we take it to the shoe repair man when the strap gets weak. It's basic black.

    My son became an attorney and we purchased a large wider version for him for Christmas. His handles get repaired the same way.

    But I just Love, love love the New Country Gear and the McCall 6716 patterns.

  39. Why not adjust the bags you already have to your liking? Removing Velcro, swapping out straps and adding hardware should take you what? 15 minutes? If that?

  40. Make it yourself. I couldn't find a beach bag I liked and made this
    I used the latest weight stuff I could find. You may find it necessary to go sturdier because in the city you would carry it around a lot more. We here in rural America just carry stuff out to the car and back in again except when traveling.

  41. My Phin prefers an older version of this bag since it is ultralight, small, and folds up into it's own pocket: And to be honest, I've begun "borrowing" it for grocery store runs and other errands.

    For sewing patterns, I've made some beautiful bags with Butterick 4560. It's called a diaper bag pattern, but if you omit some of the ample number of pockets, it's really just a messenger bag.

  42. I too think you should make your own bag. Once you start, you'll end up having a closet full of bags. I've made bags using a common plastic grocery store bag as a pattern. There is a tutorial on that is great. I tried it using fabric in the stash that I liked but would never use. Also has a free software called wild things that has bag patterns in it. NAYY of course.

  43. Make you own bag. Exactly what you want.

    The wonderful Lier from Ikatbag makes amazing bags.

    She has am impressing indepth treatise on the subject here:

    1. What he said! My first thought on your dilemma was also Ikatbag - she addresses the principles of bag making rather than telling you exactly how to make any one given bag, so you can work in the details you like with a greater understanding of how it will all fit together.

  44. I have the same problem with purses. None of them are quite right and neither are the patterns for them. I made one, without a pattern that I was very happy with but then I upgraded to a smartphone and it doesn't fit in the pocket I sewed for my phone. I haven't gotten around to making another one yet.

    By the way, I don't have a problem with Velcro but I'm thinking of trying magnets next time.

  45. I have made several "grocery etc" bags using a pattern in "Provence Quilts and Cuisine." I have one that is fairly dressy, but most are casual and are out of quilting cottons. (The husband uses the one that has a black exterior.)

    I am about to make another, out of a pattern in "Home Sewn" (French General). Obviously, I have a thing for French market bags...

    If a bag doesn't work for me, I don't keep it.

  46. I don't carry a purse. I do have two bags (one made by a friend) that I sometimes carry. I have discovered (due to travel for work) that I really love my Samsonite spinner (wheels go in all directions) computer bag and when I retire, I'll find something like that to take with me when I need to carry extra stuff (like the farmer's market.)

  47. When my husband had a driving job, he said that he was always on the lookout for the perfect bag.He finally found one, it was very pricy, so he debated for months and finally bought it. He had that bag for years. The moral being, if you keep looking at it,even if it's expensive, you probably will love it and use it. Better one great bag than several so-so bags.

    Now I carry stuff around for both of us. I like to have another organizer bag inside my various purses and market bags. Or I have fold up market bags that fit inside my medium size purses. My favorite market bag, has two deep pockets on the inside plus a small zipper pouch on a leash and another leash for my keys. I don't have to dig around for those things, just haul on the leash to fish them out. That may be a good option for your gym lock.

    Making bags is great fun, you could start by making Cathy a clever little clutch purse.

    I made cross body bags out of almost all my medium size purses, I feel more secure downtown that way.


  48. Get yourself leather needles, a teflon foot (would recommend starting with the one equivalent to the 0 foot), some upholstery thread and leather upholstery scraps and go to town with your Bernina! Longer stitches than used on fabric. Duplicate that gray bag you like!

  49. Some inspiration for your man-bag resolution might be found at this neat etsy-shop profile I just came across. Very interesting and functional looking bags. And can you ID those featured sewing machines? Especially, the "burly" walking foot?

  50. The teacher man in my life carries a soft briefcase. It has teacher things in it. Everything else goes in his pockets or on various surfaces around the house.

  51. My man is a teacher as well! He uses a messenger bag, mostly. He has several. A rather big, leather one, but it is quite heavy and some days he just doesn't need to carry everything around all day. So I made him a small messenger bag, i used a pattern from Charlies Aunt, the Melford messenger bag. It turned out really well, and it has become his favorite bag! Yay! :)

  52. Just discovered you at K-Line's and I have to direct you to my guy's M0851 bag which you can see him wearing here: (I scrolled through a ton of posts but generally I photograph him from the front and the bag's 'round the back . . . but here's another:
    Not sure if they have that same bag anymore, but I love the aniline leather bags at M0851 for their lightness and clean design (the Vacchetta leather is much heavier)
    Good luck with your search. . .

  53. My husband is also picky about bags. I bought him a Classic Messenger Bag from Timbuk2 a couple of years ago and it has held up really well, and he uses it almost every day. You can customize everything about it from size to color (outside, lining and binding) to interior pockets. Really not that expensive, either, especially with all of the custom options and nice durability. If you're really picky, they are worth a look. It looks like they are having a 20% off sale right now, too!

  54. What about one of the Jack Spade coal bags?

    I like the dipped ones and I love that camo one! However you can find that one cheaper online in the Barney's sale (or maybe the warehouse website).

  55. Duluth Pack makes nice men's bags, I think. Expensive, but inspiring at least. I like their book bag line, in particular.


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