PARIS — The days of the man bag may be numbered. A growing number of men are ditching their messenger bags and backpacks in favor of handbags traditionally intended for women, whether mini styles worn crossbody, or travel-friendly maxi versions.
The trend was crystallized at Paris Fashion Week when Isabelle Chaput and Nelson Tiberghien, the influencers behind the Instagram account Young Emperors, turned up at the Giambattista Valli show wearing their signature matching outfits, each carrying one of the designer’s Flore handbags.
“This is a very, very big trend. You see more and more men being very confident in carrying what we call traditionally women’s-shaped bags, perhaps, and it’s all around playing with this gender fluidity,” said Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of London-based concept store Machine-A.
“I guess this confidence that the young generation of people have, that the gender doesn’t really matter anymore, is about the design focus, and how they feel very comfortable and confident by dressing up and showing something that is very beautiful in terms of design,” he added.
“Ten years ago, when we were talking about men’s brands, we were thinking about Armani and Zegna, or Dunhill, but those brands are really mature, professional, very conservative. They’re not about fashion,” he noted.
In his first collection, Jones launched a male version of Dior’s Saddle bag, initially introduced by John Galliano in 1999 and rebooted by Dior women’s wear designer Maria Grazia Chiuri a season earlier. Jones added an industrial-style buckle designed by Matthew Williams, turning the bag into an instant men’s classic.
The designer said the idea came to him naturally. “It’s a personal thing, as I hate having full pockets, so I always have a bag,” he said.
“It’s actually a really masculine thing, a Saddle bag, so I just thought it was a really obvious thing to do for men’s. And putting that big clip on it, it makes it even more like a design piece that’s aesthetically pleasing to men. And it’s really functional, because you can have it if you’re cycling by your side, or if you’re walking, it’s at your front,” Jones added.
“You can fit a lot in it. People, I guess, don’t need to have their laptops or their iPads with them all the time because of their phone. That’s probably why the backpack is less frequently used,” he remarked. “It’s also all the kids that model for us: if you have a small bag, they like that.”
Karelis is now seeing a wave of emerging designers adopting a gender-fluid approach, including Johanna Parv, whose Action belt bag is made by combining repurposed handbags from the 1950s with adjustable belt straps, and Stefan Cooke, who spruces up vintage handbags with fluffy shearling handles.
Steven Ma launched in September with designs including the Affection bag, a geometric style in molded calf leather with closures made of natural stones such as tiger’s eye and lapis lazuli. Machine-A, the first to carry the brand, found that 65 percent of requests for that style came from men, and 35 percent from women.
“For me, accessories especially for bags, the styles, colors and shapes of the bag were never restricted to genders,” Ma said of his approach to design. “I believe bags are more about functionality, occasions and mood. Therefore, it never came to my mind to design a bag specifically for one gender.”
Handbag experts note that men tend to gravitate to extremes, whether buying new or secondhand.
“Men have always been collecting Hermès, either in a very small size or on the very big size,” said Judy Taylor, founder of New York-based reseller Madison Avenue Couture, which offers store-fresh handbags from Hermès and other luxury brands.
Perennial favorites include the bulky Hermès Haut à Courroies travel bag, as well as the 35-centimeter and 40-centimeter versions of the Birkin bag, which Taylor calls 35s and 40s for short.
“When you look at Floyd Mayweather, he was wearing the larger bags, so that was a very common size,” she noted. The boxer has also boasted about owning the world’s biggest Chanel bag, a hula-hoop style from the spring 2013 collection.
“Now on the other side, you have men that have traded down in size in terms of Hermès, similar to what women have been buying, so they’re liking the 25s a lot,” Taylor said, citing the example of controversial makeup artist Jeffree Star. “He used to buy a lot of 35s, he has switched to smaller bags now and sold off or unloaded a lot of his 35 collection.”
Meanwhile, unisex styles like the Hermès Cargo bag, with its practical outside pockets and cup holder, have gained traction with both sexes. Inspired by military clothing, the canvas bag, launched in 2020, comes in colors such as sand and navy.
“Right now the most popular bags are neutrals. You’re going to see a lot of crossover appeal on a lot of those bags: grays, tans, blacks, off-white — those are the things that seem to be the most popular,” Taylor said.
Liang has been closely tracking the market’s evolution since he launched his Mr. Bags blog in 2010. He said many fashion-conscious men started buying women’s bags because of the scarcity of stylish men’s designs at that time.
“We do have more choices. But five or 10 years ago, we didn’t. That’s actually why you keep seeing so many men wearing women’s bags, because we’ve been loving fashion for maybe 10 years or 20 years, but we cannot find the perfect men’s bag, so we have this habit to always go into the women’s sections to find bags that we can use. Either they’re huge bags, oversized ones, or they’re these small little suitcases, or small bags that we can wear cross-body,” he explained.
“I feel like all the classic bags, if there are so many women loving them, why don’t you turn them into male bags? Nowadays, it’s not only men wearing really cute small women’s bags. A lot of girls are buying from those big brands’ male sections too,” he said. Abloh’s designs at Vuitton have been especially popular with women.
Brands are increasingly adapting to this new consumer behavior, Liang said.
“That is something smart about the brands, is that after finding out that they have so many male consumers for their women’s products, and also women consumers for their male products, they actually didn’t change the shape of the bags or the shoes, but they introduced more sizes. For the bags, they will introduce wider straps so you can buy the body strap and then you can really turn a women’s bag into a very masculine style,” he said.
“For example for Givenchy, their new style is called Cut-Out and they have a big one. For almost all the girls, it’s too big, but a lot of men are buying it,” he said. “So when you are shopping at Givenchy, you can understand that the brand is making this size actually for males, although it’s in the women’s section.”
Liang noted that some luxury brands in China have started adding up purchases across women’s and men’s departments to determine a customer’s VIP status, instead of dividing them by gender.
It’s not unusual either for male celebrities and influencers to be fronting handbag campaigns these days. When Gucci relaunched its Jackie 1961 model in 2020, it positioned it as a unisex style: both Sienna Miller and Harry Styles could be seen toting the bag in its Gucci Beloved campaign, released in April.
Retailers are also rethinking how they merchandise the collections. While Machine-A has taken a gender-agnostic approach to presenting its wares ever since it opened in 2013, Karelis thinks this approach is becoming more generalized.
“The traditional way of presenting the merchandise and separating between genders, I think, doesn’t resonate so much anymore with a young consumer who is much more fluid and much more open to experiment, and doesn’t 100 percent connect with specific rules anymore,” he said.
“Retail has always to reflect and be able to mirror the cultural changes that are happening within the society and within the times. And I think the up-to-speed retailers will definitely change the way that they’re presenting their handbags,” Karelis said.