I went to a school where students wore uniforms, so the biggest fashion thrill associated with the closing weeks of August was buying a new backpack. At my school, the reigning style was definitely hefty L.L. Beans in various colors (the cool girls had purple and black; the jocks had navy and forest green) with some iteration of your name stitched to the front. I had a year of semi-social exile wherein I toted around a buckled leather bag, but I digress. It is this delicious nostalgia for the backpack weeks that leads to the frenetic search for new handbags and carryalls every fall — visions of buttery leather, pockets and hardware are really just so many yearnings for those awesome pen-and-calculator holders.
THE CROSS-SHOULDER BAG
Fashion folk don’t like the term “messenger bag,” but the concept is the same. For a carry-absolutely-everything option, brands like Foley + Corinna and Gryson have great satchels with traditional handbag straps and additional longer straps. Even gents can wear APC’s simple, bomber pilot-inspired style. If pockets and detailing are more your thing, Jerome Dreyfuss and Cynthia Rowley are producing smaller bags with a biker-meets-cargo aesthetic — perfect for concerts and nights out when you want your hands free.
THE CANVAS SATCHEL
Somewhere between weekend-in-the-Hamptons and burly construction worker, these bags channel the same semi-ironic outdoorsy aesthetic as plaid shirts, with a little bit of adventure chic thrown in. Best of all, these are genuinely gender-neutral: Rag & Bone’s doctor bag and Billy Kirk’s canvas artsy style would look equally fetching on me as on my father (true!). If you really want to commit to the look, pick up a genuine Klein Tool Bag — the silhouette is the same and the logo is totally rad. And they’re cheap!
THE OVERSIZE CLUTCH
The biggest thing since day-to-evening Barbie, these have a slick, European appeal. They’re large enough to carry all your essentials, and tucking a soft bag under your arm seems more refined than heaving some quilted behemoth over your shoulder. Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs have both made some really great contributions to this category: Wang’s is sleek and zippered, while Jacobs’ has a great chunky seal.
Relished by West Village starlets and Park Slope Co-op shoppers alike, the simple bag became a manic fashion fixation in the wake of the “I Am Not A Plastic Bag” bonanza. This season, designers like Rebecca Minkoff and Chloe are offering brightly decorated, oft-amusing takes on the simple piece. Now, we just have to wait for the grunge-esque backlash: The canvas tote is dead!