You Need A Messenger Bag: A Bag for Everything and Everything in a Bag

When I moved to Boston, I thought my city-girl bag experience would be sort of like this:

Unfortunately, after about two days I realized that if you live in the city, have a kid, go to school or just own more than two things you take around with you, your bag situation is a bit more:

THIS

The solution? You need a new bag. A really good everyday bag. I’m not talking about purses, just cross-body, actually-fits-all-of-your-crap bags. Well, for you, bag singular. The bag you’re about to buy because you really need one. The bag you always wish you had, but don’t have so instead you carry around a purse and 1.7 tote bags or the backpack you’ve had since middle school. (Seriously, I’ve been carrying around a “Wildwood Elementary School” tote bag that I designed in kindergarten.) A bag for a grown-up who works a job (or attends classes) where they kind of need to look like they don’t wear a backpack. A bag to go with pumps, flats, kicks and loafers. Your everyday, go to, oh-that’s-where-I-left-my-Chapstick bag.

Yet, for some reason shopping for that magical bag you absolutely need is really hard. It’s hard to extrapolate from your personal bag narrative what you actually need and frustrating to try to differentiate between tons of seemingly identical bags. That’s where I come in. I asked some really really important women what they didn’t like about their current bags and hunted them out new ones.

GLAMALAMODE.TUMBLR.COM

Problem: The Pockets are Too Small:

“My main problem is that [the pocket] is too snug — getting [my] netbook or a hardback novel into or out of the bag is just a pain in the ass. I have to carry another canvas tote for my other two books that I take everywhere. Getting anything into or out of the bag is a pain in the ass, actually, even from the bottom pouch.”

Having a bag that’s too small can drive you nuts. I should know, I have a bag that’s too small. I feel like everything has to go in exactly right or it won’t close. Even if your bag is big enough, if the compartments are too small you will go crazy trying to get your things in and out.  Of course reassigning pockets can work great (like using the water bottle netted area for your keys), that just isn’t the case I’m talking about right now. The tight-pocket situation also occurs when anyone ever in the history of bags tries to use those two “slip pockets” on the front facing wall. You know the ones I’m talking about? The ones that are supposed to be for pens but instead hair pins just fall in accidentally? No? Just me?

Because there are so many technologies we all carry around, my list is pretty limited to only buy bags that have a specifically sized padded Kindle/iPad/netbook/laptop/Nintendo DS dedicated pocket. I like the idea of buying a bigger bag with a large, structured, open interior and buying a bag organizer or making one out of a fishing vest. This way you can get the exterior you like without having to finagle different pockets to fit your technology-things.

$95-Ful at Nordstrom $73-BCBGeneration at Zappos $77-Joseph Abboud at Bluefly

SEALEDWITHATWIST.TUMBLR.COM

Problem: I Stuff Everything in the Front Pocket

“Even though there are like 4 pockets, I end up only using the outside one because it’s easiest to reach, which means that pocket contains every single small object I own and is completely bulging and overstuffed and therefore useless because you have to take out everything in it to find what you’re looking for.”

I really thought I was the only one who did this. If you’re someone inclined to throw your keys, wallet, cellphone, chapstick, gum and every receipt ever into that zipper pocket in the front (sometimes on the flap) then there is only one solution. Buy a bag without one big exterior pocket. Actually, the best option here is a bag with multiple smaller exterior pockets so everything doesn’t fall in to the exterior pocket abyss. This is particularly great because exterior double pockets are really cool/in style right now. Plus, lots of designers replace the latches with magnets or velcro (because obviously if you had to latch a pocket you’d never use it). However, make sure that you double check the size of the exterior pockets so you don’t end up in a Pockets are Too Small situation.

$44.50-Forever 21 $52-Zappos $32-Forever21

BEAUTIFULPLAGUE.TUMBLR.COM

Problem: I Can’t Take This Bag Everywhere

“What I hate is that I feel like I need to bring a ton of stuff around all day, but I don’t want to go home before dinner, so I feel like I’m toting a gigantic day-pack with me. I sometimes need to look all chic and stuff.”

I feel like this is a common issue for city livers or college students. Especially in college, it’s surprising how much the stuff you have to carry fluctuates as you pick things up and drop things off. Maybe you need a huge bag to take a sweater for later, but once your sweater is on you feel like you have a giant bag for no reason. Alternatively, you might want to use the same bag for shopping (and putting new stuff in) as you would for going out. A similar situation might be if you want a bag that you can bike with across your chest but also one that can go in the crook of your arm/tucked over your shoulder. The best solution here is to have a bag that can be folded/held two ways. This is also sort of neat because then you feel like you’re getting two bags in one, and that’s a super good deal (because I know you’re watching your budget).

$29.99-Target $109.74-BCBGeneration $151-Lucky

There is one bag that would be perfect for all of these women. Actually it would be perfect for me too. This would be the best bag ever. The only bag you would ever need. Unfortunately it doesn’t exist yet. I would sew it, but I don’t exactly know how to work with leather. But look, I drew it!

THE BEST BAG EVER

What’s double extra important is having the proper inside:

INTERIOR TOP VIEW

If you or anyone you know is able to make this bag for us (we will be needing three) please contact me through ASS. Similarly, if you’ve seen a bag like this (or better!) feel free to post your suggestions in the comments.

Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

Lizz has written 276 articles for us.

74 Comments

  1. This is excellent, but also, what about large bags for tiny (5-foot) people? I want to look professional, be able to carry all of my stuff, and not look like I’m an eight-year old carrying her mother’s work bag. Thoughts?

    • I’ve finally achieved bag happiness after years of school, bike commuting, book reading, shopping, business meetings and business travel. I like haversacks/cross-body bags because I hate feeling burdened with bags I have to carry or manage with one hand. Don’t even get me started on the tiny pockets in women’s jeans and trousers.

      Women have been burdened with carrying things forever and I actually feel oppressed when I am wearing a bag (or purse) that should stay put on my shoulder, but won’t unless I devote a single hand to keeping it in place. I want to be able to jump a fence if I feel like it.

      I’m 5′ 3″-ish and pretty small and, fortunately, bag makers started making smaller and more professional versions of messenger bags about 10 years ago. Jack Spade made some good ones that have several pockets but not so many that you have to dig like an archeologist to find your keys.

      I write and draw a lot so I’m never without a pen and a couple of drawing pencils. My favorite sea-foam green bag has pencil and pen holders sewn in betweeen the two inner pockets on the back of the outside zipper pocket.

      My homeboy has a great Jack Spade bag that’s houndstooth and leather so it’s suitable for business meetings or a nice restaurant. His husband also makes more money than Warren Buffet and all the gods put together. (I’m a little jealous, i admit it.) But it’s just about the perfect bag and doesn’t look huge on me when I try it on and fantasize about running away with it.

      Kate Spade used to make a lot of bags that fit that description too. Messenger bags that didn’t look too sporty or casual and were small enough to look appropriate on my frame.

  2. Timbuk2 bags for everything. Made out of ballistic nylon and waterproof. Pick your size or customize one on their website. All sorts of colors, laptop sleeves, tons pockets-. I own three bags by them, my first was a messenger. If you want slightly fancier but less like a purse. I recommend the long champ mens messenger I have one in black leather for dressier occasions and one in nylon for everyday.

    • ugh.
      yes, i like my timbuk2 bag. but i bike most everywhere, and when i was in uni, the combination of computer-textbooks-life supplies, weighted on one shoulder, gave me really legitimate back issues. no good! timbuk2 bags give the illusion that it’s fine to sling on one shoulder what should be in a backpack.

      still super comfy and great for lighter loads tough. almost as handsome as chrome bags.

      • Thank you for pointing out the back problems associated with only using messenger bags. I too love my ancient Timbuk2 bag, and always used it or another messenger-style bag for grocery shopping and such.

        Often I’d overload my bag, and my back hated that. It’s just one of those habits you get into and you don’t really change it until it causes a problem. So thanks for bringing it up. Back problems really suck and once you’ve injured your back, it’s a very difficult and time-intensive process to fix it.

        To combat or prevent pain from messenger bags, cobra position and shoulder stands are helpful.

        Sort of off-topic but on the back injury tip: practicing yoga regularly and establishing a strong core will prevent a lot of back pain and injuries. I’ve had back surgeries (not from wearing bags, but from sports and working as a sound tech lifting huge-ass speakers and equipment) and my physical therapist told me that most back health stems from keeping all of the abdominal muscles strong and limber. The more you know lol.

  3. I realize this is more on the sporty side, but you should check out http://www.timbuk2.com/tb2/products/home
    i don’t think they have leather options =/ but they allow for full customization.

    i recently bought one because i’m teaching in Madrid this year, and needed something super sturdy and roomy. I didn’t design it my own, because i couldnt afford the extra $50, instead i bought one predesigned off amazon for a fraction of the cost.

    it’s super awesome, holds my laptop, waterbottle, has rad compartments, etc.

    it also comes in 3 sizes so the petite girl doesn’t look silly.

    They’re an sf company orignally designed for bike messengers.

  4. I suggest Freitag, ( http://www.freitag.ch ) they have awesome bags made out of recycled truck tarps and car belts, so very ecological. You have a lot of choice and each bag is handmade. They are quite expensive though, especially with shipping order, However, they will last forever, are waterproof and are beautiful <3 plus every bag is unique.

  5. When I was in college, I had a couple large leather bags I would use for classes/traveling, but instead of worrying about pockets I reverted back to fifth grade pencil pouch style mini bags. One for pens, markers, etc., one for keys and cell phone and iPod, and one for hair ties, chapstick, random bits of debris that seem to accumulate. They were all different sizes and materials so they were easy to locate without looking, and my hand wasn’t wading through layers of stuff.

    • That is a really great idea. There are SO many cool pouches out now, for it seems like anything you’d want to pouch from little kangaroos to wooden stamps.

      I once had an awesome but ancient satchel from maybe the early 1900s made of really cheap leatherette. It was a thrift store find and it wasn’t really suitable for business because it was already so beat up. But I was in school so that wasn’t important. I’m always looking for an affordable replacement.

      If I had the chedda and weren’t feeling guilty about being indulgent, I would custom order one from a shoe-maker or saddle-maker. You know how when you’re looking at old photos from the late 1800s and early 20th C. and you have item envy for their boots or leather cases? Yeah, I get that.

      If a company started making reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian leather goods in leather and non-animal-sourced materials, they’d sell tons.

  6. I’m the kind of person who brings a bag with me EVERYWHERE, because I’m the prepared one who always has water and bandaids and tampons and mints and a book and everything else. So I don’t go anywhere without my Chrome messenger bag. It’s pretty much my favorite thing ever. It’s super waterproof (good for Ohio living, with all the weather), Chrome bags are customizable when you buy them in terms of size/color/features, and the shoulder strap is very ergonomic, which is great for me, and the reason I switched from Timbuk2 to Chrome.

  7. What I need is a messenger/shoulder bag that converts to a backpack but does NOT look like one of those tiny leather backpacks that were really popular around 1998-2000.

    Also, it has to be really easy to get stuff out of, like my metro card, when I am running full speed for the bus, half awake on a Monday morning.

  8. I carry this [http://tinyurl.com/3b5qv92], mostly because I bike everywhere & it is the best bike bag I found. The only thing is the big velcro strip is really obnoxious to open in a quiet place. My mother teases me for carrying a “suitcase” but I always have everything I need with me – I’m the new Mary Poppins y’all.

  9. I have my tiny messenger bag, it has only two pockets but it works for me because i hate to carry lots of things around… Just my BB, keys and wallet! That’s it… So i take this messenger bag everywhere work, mall, movies and i always look stylish/casual/professional! I love it!! ^.^

  10. Which reminds me, I need a new one. My current messenger bag (featuring lineart of Motoko Kusanagi from “Ghost in the Shell”) has a great big frayed tear down one of the side seams, and the phone pocket has a hole that leads directly into the space between the shell and the lining. I guess I’m pretty rough on my bags.

  11. I suggest checking out the men’s clearance section of your Forever 21 or H&M. Not all f21’s have men’s, but the larger ones do.. I got this magnificently large green canvas messenger for $8 and after 3 semesters it’s still going strong! It’s huge, like bigger than your favorite pillow huge. Also.. thrift shops!

  12. Another requirement for the perfect bag: Must be darkly colored and/or water resistant material. Light colored bags get ruined so easily when you are a clumsy person/love putting soy sauce on all your food.

  13. the one that i use daily is my built laptop bag http://bit.ly/pErd2L i never carry my laptop in it but it’s light and has this giant front pocket that i love. it feels like a soft plushy wet suit, so if it falls down a flight of stairs or two i could guarantee that there would be little to no damage, it’s really durable. the only thing i don’t like is that if you put way too much in it it’ll look bulgy and misshapen.

    i really like this ben sherman bag urbout.co/o7mVix but i wish it was all brown instead.

  14. It’s not as ~classy-looking as these, but for the nerds among us, may I recommend the D20 Bag of Holding from ThinkGeek? http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/bags/aaa5/?srp=1 There’s a massive padded laptop pocket, one HUGE internal pocket that holds approx. 1 metric fuckton of the most random things (textbooks, folders, giant DVD binder, clothes for sleepovers with mah lady), a half-size pocket for smaller things (I use it for pads because I’m paranoid), a front pocket with dividers for pens and phones and gum and stuff, AND a zip pocket on the flap. Also a pocket on the back and adjustable straps.

    I fly 2000 miles back and forth to college and it carries practically my entire life every time. And still fits under the airplane seat.

  15. Oh man, I love messenger bags. The problem is, I’m a student with a crapload of textbooks that are required in class (who does that anymore, really). So whenever I attempt to go with a messenger bag for the day, I end up with a super sore shoulder the next day. Any tips for stopping this from happening (other than giving in to the lure of the gigantic two-strap backpack)?

    • Give up and get a backpack.

      My friend who’s in a similar textbook situation struggled with a messenger bag for a year and a half before she got a backpack. Magically, her back and shoulders stopped giving her hell!

      The backpack is a useful thing. Love it. Embrace it. Do not succumb to the beguiling gaze of the messenger bag. Because messenger bags? Really not all that sexy when you’re listing to one side and clipping the doorframes of every classroom.

      • My backpack is a sexy beast. My mom bought it for me when I was in 4th grade, during a layover in Denver when my Lisa Frank backpack broke unexpectedly.

        It has been hauled over 5 continents, logged more air miles than some small companies, and still has grains of sand from my home country embedded in the front pocket. I will not give it up until it actually falls apart, and that’s not happening for a few more decades at least.

    • Yeah, as I commented above, as someone who’s definitely suffered from single-strap agony, the short-term solution can be found in yoga, particularly the cobra pose and shoulder stands.

      But if you’re hauling heavy shit day after day, please just embrace the backpack. It’ll save you temporary pain and long-term injury. Nothing to be done about it. We’re just not made to haul significant weight on one shoulder.

  16. I bought what I thought was the perfect messenger bag. I WAS MISTAKEN. I have learned one thing from this experience: always check that the bag straps aren’t super thin and that they don’t cut into your shoulders and make you want to cry. Total betrayal.

    I hope we all learn something from this.

  17. ASOS.com have some decent bags. Some are pricey, but a lot of their satchels are good. My current bag is from there. It’s lasted almost a year and is still going strong. And I used to carry heavy literature textbooks in there many a day.

  18. For the longest time I thought I was looking for a messenger bag, but recently I’ve started to think that I’m looking for a backpack, just one that’s stylish and smaller and more comfortable than the one I have? Except it’s so much harder to get things out of a backpack while you’re wearing it… omg how am I going to solve this dilemma.

    I think I am going to be bagless forever.

  19. Great round up, especially all the links in the comments. Second to NSFW ladies, bag porn is my favorite. I admit I have a bag purchasing problem. There’s even this guy on the train that I’m thinking of either asking him where he got his bag or knocking him down to mug him. :)

  20. Sigh. I love messenger bags, and I crave a fancy leather satchel. Sadly I skateboard everywhere at college (no bike for me, hate walking, live far away) and messenger bags create a huge balance problem…Thus I can only stick with backpacks.

    Can we get a post on classy-looking backpacks? I have the ever-classic basic jansport because it will never die, but sadly it does not help me feel like a motherf*cking adult.

    Bags are complicated.

  21. I just went through this! I have a leather messenger bag I love that I got in India, but it was causing shoulder and back hell. After many months, I ended up going with a Chrome backpack (http://www.chromeindustries.com/us/en/yalta). Black, waterproof, expandable and doesn’t look like a typical backpack – all positives in my book!

    I still want to turn my old messenger bag into a backpack (anyone have any ideas on how?!?), but for now, my back is grateful.

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