Opinion    Trends

Could Cargo Bags be Fashion’s Next Big Trick?

Multi-pockets? Multi-utility? Yes, please!

At any given point in time, my desk is littered with my laptop and its various accouterments, a coaster (that I never use), a notebook (that I do use – as a coaster), a water bottle (hydration is important y’all), a book I haven’t managed to get past page ten of, and of course, the usual suspects: headphones, pens, what have you.

So, when it’s time to run out – to classes or elsewhere – I’ll swipe it all into the cavernous crevices of my AllSaints tote in one fell swoop, and I’m good to go!

And yes, that’s every bit as chaotic as it sounds because, thanks to the messy bag aesthetic that’s been trending among the fashion circles, there are times when I simply couldn’t be bothered to look put-together; my tottering tote of troubles a statement of style and individual expression on its own (or so I hope).

There are also other times when I wish for a slightly more functional purse that can house the mishmash and miscellany of my daily life – one that deploys the clever human contraption called pockets.

In fact, among the several insignificant minutiae that regularly continue to dominate the fashion forums, pockets are a recurring offender – we need more of them atop dresses (without looking as if we’re in proper overalls), we need fewer on skinny jeans (because why would you ever use those?) And, as the functional fashionista I am, I can attest that you can never have enough pockets on a handbag.

It seems that fashion’s demigods (i.e., the designers) have heard our prayers and taken notes, and now we’re finally on the brink of a complete cargo bag renaissance.

Are you just as excited about it as I am?

The Capacious History of the Cargo

But before we get into how cargo bags came to be, we need to take a slight detour through the land of pockets – constituent and also predecessor to utilitarian fashion.

And it’s truly insane just how far exactly into the past the pocket versus purse debate goes – the bag, or more specifically, a mini drawstring leather pouch (a description that surprisingly enough matches multiple trending purses of today) being the original reticule of choice for both men and women in the Middle Ages.

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The Prada Nylon Backpack is one of the first designs to utilize the cargo aesthetic.

17th-century tailoring then allowed said pouches to be sewn directly into the linings of men’s jackets, and the need for the bag, specifically the men’s bag, declined. It remained, however, an instrument of the patriarchy, as women weren’t expected to have direct access to money, property, or social standing, and by extension, pockets.

By 1938, the first cargo pants had been invented within the British military as a part of their Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs), really taking the whole pockets thing into overdrive (which can range anywhere between two to twelve!).

But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the military staple had infiltrated mainstream fashion. And it was at the height of its civilian popularity, Ms. Miuccia Prada decided to step in.

Prada and the Luxification of Utility

The earliest name that pops up is the Prada Nylon Backpack within the it-bag canon. 

And it is for this, also known as the Vela, that Ms. Prada tapped into the cargo pants momentum of the 80s for inspiration, outfitting the accessory with two external pockets, drawstring closure, and plenty of D-rings and hooks to hang your things off of (just like an actual pair of cargo pants). Most strikingly, however, it was the first time a luxury brand had experimented with industrial pocone, a water-resistant variant of nylon that was originally used in the construction of army tents.

hermes kelly lakis Large
The Hermès Kelly Lakis

And with the utilitarian-minded origins of the now-venerable Prada nylon, luxury now had a new gateway, one that focused on function almost as much as it did on fashion. As Ms. Miuccia noted, “it challenged, even changed, the traditional and conservative idea of luxury. I am still obsessed with it.”

In keeping with the cargo pockets theme, Hermès brought forth the Kelly Lakis, an androgynous take on the historically ladylike Kelly featuring zipped front and rear pockets, a request from longtime customer Lakis Gavalas that – at any other point would’ve been deemed sacrilegious – but was approved by CEO Jean Louis Dumas, and subsequently, introduced by Creative Director Jean Paul Gaultier to the masses (masses, for Hermès, being a rather subjective delineation).

Louis Vuitton swiftly followed suit with its Cité range, while Marc Jacobs brought the Venetia and Blake satchels (one even gets its own mini-storyline in The Devil Wears Prada). Clearly, the trend had taken off, and there was no stopping it.

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The Cargo Birkin

Ms. Prada Sets the Record Straight Again

Now, like all Y2K trends, cargo bags too have returned to the runways yet again, riding on the backs of Blumarine and Balenciaga, who introduced their Cargo Leather Shoulder Bag and Superbusy well ahead of the rest of the pack. 

Hermès then decided to surprise us all with its new canvas rendition of the Cargo Birkin in 2020, complete with its very own cup-holder, and following up almost immediately with the more macho Birkin Rock, spotted on the arms of NFL player Christian McCaffrey earlier this year on his way to the Super Bowl.

But in its resurgence, today’s brands have failed to consider the utilitarian origins of the cargo bag. As you spot McCaffrey marching down to the game with his $68,000 bag in tow, you immediately know it’s purely exhibitionist; those extra pockets will never be used for what they’re meant for.

miu miu cargo
A multi-pocket cargo-style bag from Miu Miu’s Spring 2024 lineup.

It is to set the record straight that Ms. Prada recently revived the Miu Miu Pocket Bag for Spring 2023. As models strutted down the runway, its multiple exterior open zips in a full, reckless display of day-to-day hodgepodge, it took the cargo trend back to its workwear roots. And it’s not limited to just the Pocket Bag, rather Miu Miu as a whole has shifted to embrace the messy bag, much to our delight.

Because, at the end of the day, why have pockets if you can’t shove a spare pair of pumps into them?

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Sandy
Sandy
13 days ago

I think it depends on the bag, the Prada backpack is amazing, adding cargo pockets to a Birkin not
so much.

#1Snob
#1Snob
13 days ago

NO

Mel
Mel
12 days ago

It’s a trick alright!

Ree
Ree
6 days ago

I’ve had that black nylon Prada bag for several years now. Guess I should pull it out of storage. Everything old is new again.

Courtney
Courtney
4 days ago

I love both my mini and medium Burberry Rucksacks and find the extra compartments to be quite useful!

Becky
Becky
4 days ago

It’s certainly something that I think will always have a place. I think most people will always have occasions when they need all the pockets and other occasions when they don’t.