I’ll admit that carrying a mini bag around, regardless of your gender identity, social standing, or daily requirement was unfathomable. Of course, some people can rock clutches and/or document pouches with gusto, serving effortless elegant looks that scream, “I travel everywhere by a car that I don’t drive myself.” But for those of us that, well, need to carry things around (where said “things” in their totality equate to more than just your phone and/or platinum cards), or choose to run about town (à la myself), the concept of carrying anything smaller than what would normally be termed gigantic seems rather absurd. And it is with great (and perhaps, slightly misplaced) pride I haul around my (overflowing) PS1 to college every day now.
Since I’m at the confession stand, though, I might as well also own up to my general ignorance towards mini purses. Until recently, I was pretty much unaware that they could refer to anything aside from certain anxiety-inducing pieces from the likes of Jacquemus and Valentino. Yes, camera bags and smaller flaps have been in existence for quite some time. But in my utopia of oversized handbags, they were lesser-borns that rarely got acknowledged.
However, I’m happy to report that I couldn’t be further from the truth on both counts. Thanks to the ebbing in the hype around irrationally microscopic purses (although it isn’t, by any means, gone), we see an insurgence of smaller bags that still manage to be practical. From the Bottega Veneta Pouch and its puffy equivalents by virtually every designer under the sun to the general trend of compact half-moon hobos and the growing affinity towards tiny totes, the current direction of the handbag is the handbag world seems to be “small but spacious.”
Like it or not, the credit for this might just go to our pandemic-era purse-carrying tendencies. We have now swapped our boxy satchels and sprawling totes for convenient crossbodies, and functionality remains a top priority, especially the purses’ abilities to carry essentials like sanitizers, phones, cash, and keys. And that is what brings us to today’s question. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable that women can look “adorable and feminine” with their cute little handbags. But can men carry mini bags too? Do the pockets that traditionally held the aforementioned essentials not suffice any longer? Let’s investigate!
How it Started
Like many big trends in fashion, the man-purse, sometimes derisively called the “murse,” began on TV. But the world wasn’t ready for Jerry Seinfeld’s “European Carry-all” and Joey Tribbiani’s compact, casual briefcase. Coming under a lot of fire and controversy on the internet, it is, in fact, likely that the storylines the two shows’ creators tried to develop revolving around the man-bag actually made men of subsequent generations more averse to the idea of carrying purses. So much, in fact, that many are uncomfortable with the idea of being seen holding their significant others’ ones too!
*Insert cringing emoji*
However, the first step towards developing the men’s bag category came with the stylization of the backpack – from ultra-blingy Chanels to tux-appropriate Tom Ford ones, there was a rucksack for everybody. And perhaps because of its apparent ubiquity, or maybe since it was more a revolution in the number of backpack options catered specifically to females, the trend didn’t elicit a noteworthy response from the men.
In the late 2010s, however, an interesting phenomenon that we noticed was the rise of the fanny pack. Traditionally, it had always been a “men’s” thing, even though Sarah Jessica Parker had donned a Gucci number boldly with a crop-top in Sex and the City. So, when it suddenly became fashionable, men with bumbags, who previously felt self-righteous for being “not fashion-conscious,” suddenly found themselves at its forefront, without materializing into haughty European aristocrats in pinstripe suits balancing ultra-slim cigarettes between two fingers. And as it turns out, when an extremely casual menswear staple evolves into a très chic wardrobe staple, maybe it isn’t so bad!
Since then, the man-bag exploded upon the fashion scene with such prominence that its trajectory has become a force to be reckoned with. Thus, we enter the phase when male celebrities like Pharrell Williams, Marc Jacobs, and Kanye West were seen hauling giant Hermès HACs and Goyard briefcases/backpacks/crossbodies across New York. Coincidentally, it was also the time men’s versions of popular female purses like the Prada Galleria and the Saint Laurent Sac de Jour began to be released.
Soon, designers realized that men weren’t always looking for a large purse to schlep around their work and gym miscellany. After all, if women could be coerced into believing that “bite-sized” purses were the thing to have, why not men? And just like that, nylon messengers by Prada, the masculine (and utilitarian) Baguette by Fendi, and the Dior Saddle Belt-bag suddenly started appearing on the arms, shoulders, and torsos of various male street-style influencers and fashion editors, ushering us into the current era of androgynous fashion.
But why has the interest towards smaller man-purses grown so monumentally in the last few years?
Well, They Can Be Pretty Functional
Deep pockets are an attractive thing to possess, no doubt. But just because you have pockets doesn’t mean you need to use them, right? Having grown up watching my dad’s trousers resembling Mary Poppins’ carpet-bag (you can guess that he isn’t very open to the man-purse), I’d always wondered if pants were meant to look like that. However, the mini men’s purse essentially circumnavigates this destruction of form and silhouette by housing your pile of keys, wallet, phone, and other knick-knacks. And the best part about them is that they are often more organized too. Imagine blindly digging into your hind pocket in a crowded setting to find that one key amidst a veritable mosh-pit of keys. Or having something of value get pickpocketed because you didn’t even realize something is missing from your pockets’ black hole. Yeah, I rest my case.
But They Are Also Chic!
This part is pretty subjective, after all. Everyone has different tastes – some women feel entirely comfortable using their pockets solely. Some men love to drag everything but the kitchen sink in humongous Spidermen backpacks (can you guess whom I’m referencing here?). But it’s obvious that if a mini bag saves you from appearing sloppy, you look more put-together and, as a result, feel much better too! They might not go with everything – a super formal tuxedo at a black-tie event isn’t exactly ideal grounds for taking your bright yellow Fendi Baguette Messenger out for a spin (unless, of course, you’re into it. We’re not judging.) But with the right summer outfit, it has the potential to make you look like the most dapper person in the building! And if logos are your thing, a Dior logo Saddle or a Louis Vuitton Petite Malle can add some much-needed oomph to any formal, casual, or normcore aesthetic that you’re looking to serve.
Fashion Isn’t So Gendered Anymore
What do Gucci, Hermès, Chanel, and Telfar have in common? They’re all taking handbags towards a very androgynous (not to mention, very stylish) future. Actively taking steps to overcome gender barriers, these designers dress men in bold colors, prints, and purses that traditionally have been limited to the women’s department. Harry Styles’ casting as the masculine face of the Gucci Jackie and Korean popstar G-Dragon’s role as the ambassador for the Chanel Gabrielle strongly attest to that. And even when it comes to “conservative” heritage houses like Hermès, their bigger sizes like the HAC and the Birkin 45s and 50s aren’t the only ones that are of interest to gentlemen. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reports that the Birkins in the smaller sizes are increasingly gaining male attention, so women now have a new competitor to face in their quests to obtain their “holy grails.” And who could forget Telfar’s mini tote on Ashton Sanders for the 2019 Met Gala – a clear sign of how a purse dresses up anyone and everyone regardless of their gender.
Thanks to celebrities, influencers, and fashion editors, the man-bag has become more popular and less stigmatized now than it was ever before. But the mini purse as an accessory is still largely limited to the female gender. The pandemic era (which, let’s hope, is on its way to being behind us) has shown us that loads of things matter in life and need to be taken seriously. But fashion, perhaps, isn’t quite one of them, or at least, not always. And that’s why flaunting a mini purse is a whimsical nod to carrying an accessory just for the fun of it. Experimenting with one’s style and changing up your aesthetic once in a while couldn’t hurt. And the joy of having settled into a look that suits you well…is honestly amazing.
Is this all an excuse to convince me to get a mini purse? Maybe. But at least I’ll feel more fashionably progressive if I end up with one now that I’ve found men’s minis are actually a thing. And a very major thing at that, as HighSnobiety says, “Looking to flex? A hard-to-get pair of kicks will impress a lot more than an off-the-rack Alexander Wang bag. It’s not crazy to think the opposite could soon become true for men.”