I Love My Man Bag More Than Life Itself

Why the much frowned upon man-accessory should be a wardrobe staple.
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Why the much frowned upon man-accessory should be a wardrobe staple.

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Fashion and style is so often an exercise in open defiance, a statement in the face of hostility and antipathy towards yourself, or your music or your generation. I am not known for making such statements but sometimes the sheer weight of overwhelming practicality leads me to stride purposefully onto the travelator of semi-reckless trends.

So it was, when I nervously declared my requirements for a Man Bag. I adopted the crash position and braced myself for the backlash and inevitable ridicule, but no longer would a House of Fraser plastic bag suffice in transporting my daily belongings and maintaining them in working order. I needed more room than a laptop case would allow, and no longer could I deny my desires. This was jumping without a parachute, this was ‘out there’ boldness with impetuous sincerity. I needed a Man Bag and I didn’t care who knew about it.

I was well aware that my peer group would pour scorn on my unprecedented lurch away from the alpha-male datum point. I had previously shown no intimations towards anything other than terrace culture and healthy workplace banter, and certainly in the view of the majority of people I knew it would be almost contemptible in 2011 to suggest that a man may consider accessorising. Heinous is the crime of showing more than a passing interest in the optional lengths of an adjustable shoulder strap.

This was not a love to be ashamed of, or shunned like an elephantine Victorian circus freak, this was ‘today’, this was latest, this was maintaining a last vital grip on my youth.

At first my wife kept my declaration to herself whilst we both came to terms with the wilfully foolhardy proclamation I had made. But slowly as the truth sank in, it didn’t seem such a preposterous scenario after all. Having just turned 40, maybe this was the right time to branch out and dip a tentative toe in the water of 21st century convention? We looked around and suddenly we saw lots of Man Bags, as if the blinkers had come off and been replaced by Man Bag-vision goggles. Like badgers in the dark now every Man Bag was visible and conspicuous. I felt instantly invigorated and approved. This was not a love to be ashamed of, or shunned like an elephantine Victorian circus freak, this was ‘today’, this was latest, this was maintaining a last vital grip on my youth.

The affirmation that men did indeed use a very particular style of bag to carry their everyday belongings was vindication of my secret lechery, and I needed no further encouragement to pursue my conquest with gusto. This did, however, mean I had to go public, resulting in a series of hesitant encounters and clumsy fumblings in the thankfully outer recesses of well-known department stores. There is never a Man Bag section, but God bless whoever decided to put them with caps, gloves and belts in a darkened corner away from the preying masses.

If there is anything worse than being openly ridiculed for carrying a Man Bag, it’s being caught in the act of trying one on. That moment where you are checking yourself in the mirror, you don’t know if it suits you, you don’t know if you have the swagger to pull it off. You haven’t committed. Uncertainty, doubt, questions: a bubbling pot of self-consciousness. It’s a Road to Damascus moment where you could go one way or another. Do you go with your convictions and make a fearless announcement of your new life? Or do you accept the fact that you will forever be a conservative fashion dweller, consigned to the low-risk acceptance that you belong in a prudent and circumspect world that may once have been fashionable. It is at that moment that you don’t want to be confronted by a group of lads seeking out the Ben Sherman section. Post-purchase, out on the street, you have signed-up, you are devoted and showing it, you are flying without wings and you don’t care, but not now. The damage that a smirk or a dissenting glance can do could be irreparable.

Collective gasp, minds warping in confusion, sensory overload. Jon has a Man Bag. What seemed so wrong is now so right.

I took the sheltered option of not purchasing the Bag myself, but asking for it as a birthday present, skilfully avoiding having to actually buy it, whilst also taking the staccato approach to publicising my scornful affair. This did, however, almost backfire with damaging consequences as I was presented with my selected appendage on the morning of my 40th birthday in a room full of my closest relatives. As I unwrapped it my 4-year old daughter announced, with comic timing bettered only by Morecambe or Hancock, “it’s a handbag!” In unison the room recoiled in a cacophony of belly laughs, but in a masterstroke of reverse psychology I made light of the situation and regained immediate control. I had gone too far down the road now, and nothing at this late stage was going to break the bond of this new love. This was a Montague and Capulet moment, two opposing forces, with the strength of the repellent equal to the resilience of the cherished endearment. This was Christmas Day East Enders, this was Bobby Ewing in the shower. Collective gasp, minds warping in confusion, sensory overload. Jon has a Man Bag. What seemed so wrong is now so right.

With the infatuation now unbreakable I had no problem with a very brazen flouting of convention and took my Man Bag off into central Leeds one morning. I had not allowed for adverse weather of course and my faux-leather style-accessory was subjected to a somewhat punishing debut, but fortunately it survived, and with a flourish of its’ wipe-clean polyurethane chic we can only prosper together from this moment.

From such fleeting encounters, deep and tender romances have developed and here is a lesson in belief and fortitude in the face of open ridicule. Let it be known that strength in the face of censure and denunciation is the rock upon which the greatest fashion statements have been made, from mini-skirts to shoulder pads, and ten-hole Doc Martens to VW Badges. If me using a Man Bag contributes to this continuing legacy then truly it is my first venture down this path, other than a brief flirtation with 20 inch ‘parallels’ in the late 1980’s, but most of all it is a testimony to the stoically unwavering belief that love indeed conquers all.

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