How to Avoid Buying a Man Purse

My pursuit of the perfect man bag really began last October. Standing outside the elevator in the lobby of my apartment, two blonde coeds began chatting about Halloween plans. When the door opened and we each stepped on, one of the girls turned and asked me, “Where do you go?”

“Four, please.”

She laughed, then clarified.

“No, where do you go to school?” she asked. “I see your backpack. PSU? UP?”

I was two weeks into my first big boy job. Between the lax dress code and my unfortunate backpack, these girls had assumed I was still a college student. Someday, I’ll take that as a compliment, but not at 25. I knew the black Titleist backpack I’d been using since sophomore year would no longer suffice. I needed something a little more grown-up.

A little movie called The Hangover brought the European man purse phenomenon to the public conscience, so now more than ever, it’s critical to know the fine line between an acceptable man bag and something your girlfriend might buy. It took me a solid three months to find the right bag, but before I explain my strategy, here’s why I felt a man bag was necessary.

  1. Jeans are tighter than ever and pocket space is at a premium. You might be able to carry a car key and  stick of gum, but that’s about it.
  2. Mobile devices are all the rage. Whether hauling your laptop, a netbook or your new iPad, you need the right bag to get that stuff around.
  3. I read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in high school. I’ve been a pack rat ever since.
  4. A backpack is just as debasing as a man purse. It was time.

When looking for a proper man bag, there are are several things to keep in mind. I want to take you threw the logic I applied, but know that these are just recommendations. We’re not talking about prescriptions drugs or life insurance here. You can disobey rules when necessary, but here’s what led to my purchase:

Go Long with Shoulder Straps. By “man bag,” I really mean “messenger bag.” A man purse will have feeble little straps that might make it over your shoulder if you gave up protein when you were 11. A man bag should be worn across the body, so you can wear it at your side or flip it behind you. (Tom Brady struggles with this key distinction, and it’s his job to go long.) Think of it this way: If you were cornered by ninjas and all you had was your man bag, you’d be able to swing your bag 360 degrees to knock out every ninja within five feet.

Wider is Better. It’s critical your man bag have a rectangular shape, not square. This is to ensure you can haul a laptop or important documents, but also a hammer, a ratchet set, roughly 12 bottles of Miller High Life or a semi-automatic weapon if need be. The discerning eye will notice a square bag always looks more dubious than a rectangular bag. On another note, a square bag will make you look fat. Wait! No! Moving along…

Perfectly Disorganized. The general rule of thumb here is the fewer designated pockets, the better. You’re essentially looking for a durable bag into which you can chuck a number of items simply to know they’re there. You don’t need a pencil pocket, a valuables pocket, a cell phone pocket, a cord slot, a key ring and a hidden pocket. Anything beyond a few pockets and it looks like your an EMT ready for triage. (That’s bad ass in it’s own right, but not what we’re looking for here.)

Lose the Leather. Your man bag shouldn’t cost more than $50. That should rule out leather and just about every designer brand. Your man bag needs to have the same sentiment as that old beat-up baseball cap you’ve been wearing for years. The reality is your man bag, like that baseball cap, will probably look distressed on purchase. That’s good! Canvas bags are the best, because within a few weeks and a few washes, it looks like something you may have used to carry fossils, a wounded raccoon or expended rounds from the Civil War.

I’m packing my man bag for a Sunday at Powell’s World of Books on Burnside. I will carry with me: my MacBook, my MacBook charger, my iPhone, my Flip camcorder, a pack of Trident gum, the AP Stylebook, my wallet, my keys, a spool of floss, two sets of earbuds, an umbrella and a chocolate Powerbar. Of course, I don’t need all of these items, but that’s not the point of a man bag. It’s the fact you can bring all of these things.

It’s so liberating.

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