Opinion    Trends

Camera Bags: Dated Trend or Wardrobe Classic? 

Is this practical piece still in regular rotation for you?

Lights, camera, snap! 

Did I just attempt to live my paparazzi-fueled fantasies by appropriating the public-facing, painfully scrutinized life of a front-page socialite down to a few mere clicks of the shutterbugs? Certainly (maybe) not.

What I did try to achieve with this little exercise was reminisce the days when we’d whip a little contraption out of our persons to capture life’s beautiful moments forever: why, the camera, of course! 

In fact, like print media tabloids, the Polaroid harks back to a simpler time. Today, we may be armed with our iPhones, photographic prowess a filter away. But does that make us all photographers? Are we really capturing what’s meaningful? 

It’s as Laura Antonia Jordan writes for Elle: “Thanks to the Internet, everyone can express an opinion very publicly and very immediately. But does that make everyone a critic? Absolutely not.” Same principle, really.

And the camera bag today, like much else in fashion derived from utilitarian origins, couldn’t be further from its originally intended purpose—to house an actual photographic apparatus. So, as these little darlings of the luxury conglomerate machination make yet another comeback to the style scene, it’s worth exploring first how exactly the camera bag—the OG—came into being.

Camera Bags… for Actual Cameras

The history of the camera bag dates back to the 1970s – more specifically, to 1975. Before that, hauling photographic equipment meant hauling equally hulking gear: hard-shelled cases, sturdy for shipping, but brutal on the photog on the go.

Enter – Jim Domke, a photojournalist and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer

Dismayed at the dearth of convenient, portable, and travel-friendly camera gear (especially for long-distance assignments), Domke devised his own design, enlisting the aid of a custom canvas tent maker and other fellow photographers, to eventually create the Domke F-2. 

Original Camera Bag
The original Domke F-2 camera bag, image via The Broadcast Bridge

With twelve compartments and a padded insert with four extra pockets, the F-2 remains a bestseller for the prototype’s present owner, Tiffen, but also the preferred gear among the White House Photographers Association!

And thanks to Domke’s breakthrough design, camera bags have since proliferated, albeit among a niche category of users who identify themselves as passionate photographers (like our very own Vlad here).

The Leap: From Function to Fashion

But these camera bags have nothing in common with those that have populated the luxury sphere today. Petite yet practical, structured yet spacious, they were perfect for those chunky little point-and-shoot cameras of the early aughts, and therefore, expert estimates (the expert, in this case, being me) trace their origins to somewhere around that time as well (some of the earliest Chanel examples date back to the 90s!)

Gucci SoHo
The Gucci Soho Disco has been one of the most popular camera bags ever.

Even though they wouldn’t quite fit an SLR camera, they’d fit nearly everything else you could possibly need on a daily basis—a phone, a full-sized wallet, a water bottle, and an umbrella—with more room to spare!

So, as the mini-bag trend was powering its way through the 2010s, the camera bag rose as a formidable contender, popping up simultaneously in the SS15 collections of JW Anderson, designed to perfectly house a Nikon 1 camera, and Stella McCartney, whose Linda Camera bag (named after McCartney’s mother) could accommodate the world’s smallest DSLR camera, the Canon EOS 100D White.

With the style taking off, the rest of the fashion world quickly took note, as everyone from Nicolas Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton to Alessandro Michele at Gucci launched their respective reinterpretations of the design.

Plus, it wasn’t just the utility of the silhouette that accounted for its popularity—a step up from the wallet-on-chain yet smaller than a regular shoulder bag, the camera bag fell in the sweet spot price-wise, too. Gucci’s massively marketable Soho Disco (designed by Frida Giannini pre-Michele) and Marmont Camera Bag, for instance, routinely made rounds as THE designer bags to have under the $1,000 price point!

For a moment, it seemed like camera bags were en route to becoming a true wardrobe classic. Amanda went so far as to declare, “I believe that camera bags are truly, genuinely the most useful of the widely available bag styles.”

NYC Bags In The Wild April 2024 Part II 21 of 22
The Bottega Veneta Mini Loop is yet another strong contender.

From the Dust Returned

Like all good things, however, the camera bag, too, ended its tenure – surprisingly enough, right at the onset of the pandemic. 

In fact, when hands-free, convenient crossbodies reigned supreme across much of our quarantine-induced quandaries, camera bags largely disappeared, seemingly a blip in our handbag radars, quickly to be replaced by trending 90s-shoulder bags.

And even though they didn’t go away in their entirety (some ladies, after all, continue to swear by them regardless of the ruling trends), their return by now is long overdue, especially as we continue to tire of the ludicrously large new offerings the heritage houses continue to churn out season after season.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Chanel, for its Cruise 2025 lineup, brought forth an entirely new breed of camera-style purses (which some have since likened to a whimsical bar of soap) – engraved with the quintessential 31, Rue Cambon address of its flagship store – to revive the glory days of the camera bag.

Chanel Camera Bag SS 24 11
Chanel continues to pioneer the (very literal) camera bag even today.

But really, camera bags have managed to achieve a rare sense of aesthetic harmony few others have in the world of fashion: the zip closure for absolute security, the crossbody strap for freedom of mobility, and the bag itself, a canvas for creativity. 

Across the body, they elevate your basic athleisure sweatpants. Carried as a clutch, they can look just as dressy as a formal ensemble, casual cool notwithstanding. The only thing it can’t do? Well, hold an actual camera, for one.

But hey, that’s what you’ve got your phone for, right?

guest

14 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jaime
Jaime
27 days ago

I love my Gucci camera bag. True purse collectors don’t just stick to the trends. I buy what I like. And also, in 5 – 10 years I won’t have to purchase the re-edition Gucci Camera bag for $5000. (added inflation). Wear what you love.

Slim
Slim
24 days ago
Reply to  Jaime

Well said!!

Lori
Lori
27 days ago

I think the camera bag is a classic. Will evolve over the years but will always have a place.

Sandy
Sandy
27 days ago

The camera bag is so useful, classic IMO.

Mia
Mia
26 days ago

Camera bags are great because, unlike most other small crossbody bags, they have depth so you can carry sunglasses and other things that are a little bulky. The depth makes them more functional. You get the sleek, easy look of a small bag with the roominess of a larger bag.

Like most classic things, there are periods where they are trending more but they never really go out of style.

I have the Gucci Soho Disco above in that perfect shade of red that matches everything (not too blue, not too yellow). I love this bag!

J B
J B
26 days ago

I love my Gucci camera bag – it’s a classic and just the right size.

NShap
NShap
24 days ago

For me the camera bag is my favorite shape of all time, I rarely buy repeats of styles but I have 5 of the Saint Laurent Lou bag in a variety of colors and fabrications. It is the perfect shape and size for everything I need and I find its the most useful to travel with as its dressy enough for dinner and casual enough for day plus the crossbody is very practical and safe for hands free and easy to access your items. Even though I prefer the look of a flap, the zipper top just makes it 100% more accessible quickly vs messing with a flap. I never saw them go away and still see them everywhere because it’s the best shape ever for everyday in my opinion and agreed that they tend to be priced better than flaps. Long live the camera bag!

Jimmy
Jimmy
27 days ago

Had to sell mine (the exact same Gucci one featured in your cover photo) because I wasn’t reaching for it anymore. This article made me feel a twinge of regret *sigh*

Eva
Eva
27 days ago
Reply to  Jimmy

That exactly what it is. Anytime I sell the purse I see in the pics and I am like….what was I thinking!

Sara
Sara
23 days ago

I still wear and love my Gucci camera bag. I love that so many comments reference Gucci’s bags. They did this silhouette so perfectly!

Vintage
Vintage
23 days ago

Wow.

The history section of this whole article is so wildly inaccurate that it hurts to read.

Paris
Paris
23 days ago
Reply to  Vintage

Can you elucidate?

Vintage
Vintage
21 days ago
Reply to  Paris

The predecessor of the modern camera bag was the mid 1950s Leica M series camera case, which was a leather bag featuring internal dividers for lenses and an outside pocket for press passes, ext. There were other similar-looking camera bags, from the 1930s onward, but the Leica was the first widely-distributed.

Domke was the first to make a waxed-canvas multi-pocket camera bag. Before that, newspaper photographers used fishing bags. It was the marriage of two existing camera bags, not something unique in itself.

Lagerfeld adapted the 50s bag and sent it done the runways starting in the mid-80s.

Basically, the author cut off about 40 years of history and glossed over the last 50

ades*****
ades*****
20 days ago

I love my pewter Chanel Reissue camera bag. I wasn’t sure that I would like the bag but it quickly became one of my favorites because it is easy to carry and is roomy without appearing too big.