Julie Rath: Too Cool for School (The Case Against Backpacks)

Guys, I have to tell you something that will either upset or (hopefully) liberate you:

You are TOO COOL to still be carrying a backpack.

If you’re no longer a student and are not on a euro tour, there’s no excuse. For some reason, Manhattan’s streets are overrun by knapsacked men, and it always makes me scratch my head because it is such an awkward and unattractive look. It’s especially troubling when the guy in question is wearing what would otherwise be a nice work outfit. Instead, his look is overwhelmed by a clunky nylon box strapped to his back, which only makes one wonder what grade he’s in. It’s also downright dangerous on an NYC subway when the backpack-wearer turns around in tight quarters. I’ve seen this happen to more than one woman, and the guy had no clue he nearly took her out! There are many better options out there to comfortably carry your things while looking great and not injuring lovely ladies who might otherwise be into you.

$50 and under

I like both the style and the price of this messenger bag from Urban Outfitters. It’s got a vintage feel while still work appropriate. The bag comes in two color combinations: khaki with brown and brown with brown. I prefer the contrast of the khaki and brown option (above) — classic and classy ($48).


The top handles and long strap on this tote make it perfect for guys who want the freedom to carry their bag in a couple of different ways: over the shoulder, in hand or slung across the body. This style comes to us from a collaboration between BillyKirk and Urban Outfitters. I like how it embodies classic almost preppy detailing but remains modern via a fresh color scheme. It’s a little hard to tell from this small image, but it’s got playful green piping. I wish it came in other colors too…dark grey with black or royal blue detailing or a deep chocolate brown with navy would look fantastic ($88).

Collaborations between smaller fashion companies and larger chains are big these days — and it obviously worked in this instance as well. Seattle-based Rian Handbags collaborated with Urban Outfitters on this great backpack alternative. I love it because while being wallet-friendly, it still has visual interest in the wax-coated canvas and off-center clamp detailing. It’s got a slightly more urban flavor than the previous two options ($100).


This bag above, also by Rian, is perfect for those guys with a little less to carry around. The combination of the canvas with the worn leather is really nice, and I love the edgy artwork used on the interior of Rian bags (it’s the background on the shot below). Designer Rian Berry wrote in an email, “the correlation between the artwork and the bags…is the backbone of our Rian mainline products.” While I’m normally not a fan of large logos on things, on these it’s subtle and doesn’t interfere with the style or appeal of the bag. It also comes in black on black as seen below, which has a bit more of a downtown feeling ($128).

$200 and up

This Sam Cycle bag from Property Of…  is another outdoorsy-feeling bag with vintage and classic details. With its higher price point come more durability and a richer feel than the previous options despite its ruggedness. It’s also a bit bigger and definitely laptop-friendly ($285).


I included the Sackett bag from Moore and Giles twice because I couldn’t decide between the two — Brompton brown leather (top) or Nubuck bison woodland (bottom; I love these names — maybe the latter is what a big game hunter carries his laptop in?). What I’m getting at is not only is this bag absolutely gorgeous, but you also have a number of different colors and materials to choose from. That way you can express your own personal style without looking like you’re trying to show off the brand name of whatever it is you’re carrying ($485).

I hope that if you are a backpack-wearer, one of your New Year’s resolutions will be to graduate from that cumbersome look and pick up something more sophisticated that will suit you better.


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