From years and years of being a student, my brain is wired to associate autumn with the start of the new year rather than January.
Whether you’re heading off to school or just want to refresh your look after falling into a hot, humid style slump over the summer, fall is the perfect time to reinvent your wardrobe.
And an everyday bag is a great place start.
But before you hastily click “ship,” take some time to consider exactly how you’ll use your bag to ensure that it’s the right one for you. Unlike a shirt or pants that you can easily swap out, you will likely be using the same bag day-in and day-out.
So you want it to be something you love that also has the functional elements to meet your carrying needs.
Choosing an everyday bag
I consider a good everyday bag to be one of the 10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials, so it’s worthwhile to give the selection process significant attention.
Just keep in mind, your decision ultimately comes down to what YOU like, not what OTHERS think is appropriate or fashionable.
Below, I lay out some criteria to help guide your purchase.
Not only does your occupation dictate some of the things you carry, but every job has a different atmosphere that will influence your buying decision.
If you’re a small town college student, a sleek black leather briefcase may not be the best choice. Not only is it an unusual type of bag for a student to carry, the materials are also more suited for a big city professional.
A simple, unembellished backpack or messenger bag would better meet your needs.
On the other hand, the above mentioned briefcase would be right at home working in a downtown high-rise, while a backpack may earn some confused stares.
The part of the world/country you’re in will likely have some influence over the style of everyday bag you choose.
For example, certain preppy, nautical-inspired options would be right at home in a seaside village on the East Coast, but would look completely out of place in a small, Midwestern farming town.
A big city will be more accommodating to elegant or flashy designs, while small towns will embrace classic ruggedness.
A fashion forward bag that may seem outrageous in the French countryside can appear to be of tame design on the streets of Tokyo.
Beyond your occupation, you’ll also want to consider your carrying needs.
Think about how you’ll be using your bag throughout the day and what you expect to put into it.
If you go to the gym in the morning without returning home, you’ll need something large enough to hold a change of clothes and perhaps some pre-made meals.
An art student may need to lug tools and materials from his third floor walkup apartment, to the train, and then from building to building on campus.
While for the minimalist relying solely on a smartphone and tablet, a large duffle or tote would be a hinderance to image and ease of movement.
It’s always been my preference to carry my bag rather than to sling it over my shoulders. I’m not really sure why, exactly.
Maybe it’s the minimalist part of my brain appreciating not lugging around more than I can easily carry in one hand. Maybe it’s a subconscious motivation to avoid the sweaty back and shoulders that come with the use of a backpack or messenger bag.
But I’ve recently discovered that, though more aesthetically and psychologically pleasing, dedicating fifty percent of my hands to the sole task of carrying a bag isn’t always the best option.
While on a crowded Chicago city bus during rush hour recently, I was forced to juggle a briefcase and coffee while gripping the “oh-shit handle” for dear life as the bus driver swerved wildly through traffic.
As a result, I received a few burns on my hands and gained a new appreciation for messenger bags and backpacks.
So if you frequently walk long distances with your bag or often need to handle other items, consider a bag that allows you to go “hands free”.
After all other factors help determine the functional characteristics of your new everyday bag, you have to ask yourself: what do YOU like?
Sure, some geographic regions may not favor elegant, modern clothing and accessories.
But if you’re a business-minded man with eyes on making it to the top, go with what makes you feel like the man you are or want to be.
If that means polished black leather, then so be it.
Likewise, if you live in the middle of Manhattan but feel more connected to rugged, workwear-inspired pieces – go for it.
Everyone else be damned.
You can buy the most functional bag in the world, but if you hate the way it looks, you’re never going to use it.
So make sure you choose something you’re going to be excited to grab before heading out the door.
Deciphering design elements
Even when comparing two bags in the same category (i.e., briefcases), they can give off a completely different vibe based on varying design characteristics.
Depending on the look you want to achieve, here are some elements to consider.
- Fine, smooth leather or suede
- Solid black or dark brown
- Minimalist design
- Sleek metal finishes
- Durable leather or textile
- Any colors or patterns (especially geometric or small, repeating patterns)
- Plenty of compartments
- Basic, functional hardware
- Thick leather, heavy canvas
- Earth tones
- Practical straps, buckles, tie downs, and heavy stitching
- Robust hardware
- Smooth leather or high-end textiles
- Dark and elegant overall with pops of color
- Interesting details and “extras”
- Striking metal hardware
Everyday Bag Options
In yesteryear, men woke up, went to the office or factory, then went home for a hot meal.
Not exactly the case these days.
It’s not uncommon for a modern man to hit the gym in the morning, shower there, head straight to work, attend class in the evening, go out for a drink with the boys after that, and then stumble home to catch a few z’s.
With this constant on-the-go nature of current life, it’s important to be able to comfortably carry all the essentials.
And just as every man’s life is different, so will be the tasks with which he entrusts his everyday bag.
If you can carry almost everything in your pockets and prefer to go out to lunch rather than toting tupperware, don’t hold yourself back with an unnecessarily large everyday bag.
For the sophisticated minimalist, all you need is a simple folio to protect your electronics.
If you work in a business environment where suits are common, a briefcase is the way to go. Use your own judgement to select one that matches the level of formality you desire.
Darker colors are more elegant than lighter shades, leather is more business-appropriate than textile, and a slim profile trumps a boxy, frumpy silhouette in terms of sophistication.
Messenger bags, like anything else that becomes popular, have gotten a bad rap lately.
They were all the rage in the earlier part of the 21st century and as a result, many cheesy options made it onto the scene, dragging the whole genre through the mud.
It’s best to think of them as a less formal, wearable briefcase.
Not quite boardroom ready, but a lot more sophisticated than a backpack. If you go with the right style, that is.
For the guy who spends a lot of time away from home, a good duffle will provide massive returns on your investment.
Don’t make the mistake of becoming over-encumbered by carrying multiple bags to get you through the day unless absolutely necessary.
Just pick up the jack-of-all-trades everyday bag and stuff it full of whatever your life requires.
Totes are great for people in creative fields who need to transport odd materials from place to place. These bags are hard-wearing and allow you to toss in oversized items like drawings and paint supplies.
However, as this style is most often associated with reusable grocery bags and the thing your girlfriend brings to the beach, carrying a tote can be a risky endeavor.
To avoid the appearance of carrying a purse, make sure to find one that infuses plenty of masculinity in the form of materials, colors, and design details.
Fear not though, the options below more closely resemble a bricklayer’s tool bag than a feminine carry-all.
Just thinking about the word “backpack” conjures up images of high school hallways and summer camping trips. As such, backpacks are all but “outlawed” by many style enthusiasts.
However, I always like to let function guide form and realize that, while not the most sophisticated option, backpacks certainly have their place in a man’s wardrobe.
My current everyday bags
This is an excellent all-a-rounder. I can pack it for a short overnight trip, workday at the coffee shop, or even with some extra camping essentials. It really can handle almost anything for typical day-to-day activities.
- Extremely well-made with thick leather, heavy stitching, and robust brass rivets
- Waxed canvas takes on a wonderful patina in a short period of time
- Great compact size with well laid out pockets
- Stylish and memorable design
- No shoulder strap option
- Waxed canvas may appear “dirty” as opposed to “worn” to some
- Only large enough to fit a 13” Macbook Air
- Color and materials aren’t as elegant and versatile as I’d like
This is the backpack I upgraded to after my freshman year of college and have continued to use for almost three additional years (six total). It’s the perfect size, has a no-fuss design, and looks grown-up and laid back at the same time.
I should note that I removed the giant Jansport label using a seam ripper.
- Simple, timeless styling
- Just enough pockets and compartments
- Great durability, still looks clean and fresh after years of heavy use
- Laptop sleeve
- Looks a little too academic for my evolving personal style
- One of the leather zipper pulls tore in the first few weeks (I replaced it with an odd piece of leather)
My Next Purchase
It’s almost impossible to be too dressed up in the area I live and I often find myself longing for a more elegant bag to suit my everyday needs.
So once I pull the trigger and upgrade my current everyday bag, I’ll most likely be getting the Jack Spade Men’s File Brief or something very similar.
Why this everyday bag?
1. The design is simple and classic, so I won’t be berating myself a few years from now for spending nearly $400 on a bag that was “on point” at the time, but has become a dated piece of junk.
2. The dark leather is professional and elegant, but the uncommon navy color has just enough attitude to separate me from a sea of black and brown.
3. I’ve enjoyed my current Jack Spade bag so thoroughly that I’m completely confident in the quality of materials and workmanship.
4. The shoulder strap, as explained earlier, is essential for hopping on and off of public transit, as I’m almost never without a coffee these days.
5. I have a gym, coffee shop, library, and grocery store within a short walk of my apartment, so a massive bag isn’t necessary for my needs. This slim design is just enough to hold the essentials but small enough to facilitate unencumbered movement.
I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but I feel so much better about the day ahead if I’m well organized and prepared.
Even in elementary school, the occasional act of organizing my backpack would actually help me look forward to the next school day (and that’s saying a lot coming from a guy who used to behave like Bart Simpson).
So I really recommend choosing a bag that will make you excited to pack it for the next day and make you more likely to get and stay organized.