(Why men have tossed aside briefcases & are now flicking V-signs at the 5p carrier bag)
A couple of years ago I met some Stokie folk down the pub, and a middle-aged guy I know made reference to my shoulder bag. “He’s got his man-bag with him!”
I have to admit to feeling a little affronted. Afterall, my distressed leather bag has a metal guitar welded to it, engraved with the words “Rock & Roll”! It could not be more manly if condoms were riveted to the side like a ream of spare ammunition.
But the way he said it made it sound like I was walking round with a lady’s pink handbag with pretty pansy flowers on (from some twee ‘60s sitcom), pulling lipstick, mirror & powders out at regular intervals and applying thick layers to lips and nose.
Ok, I exaggerate, but I was perplexed that he felt the need to draw attention to the bag in our group of 50-somethings. Particularly as I produced from its inner sanctum some football books and articles that I’d brought along for him to peruse. They were none the worse for their travels; not crushed, damp or dishevelled in any way. And this leads me to the whole point of bags in polite society.
It’s Cold Outside
As many of you will have noticed, we live in a cold, dark, damp country. It still bewilders me why so many who live by the Mediterranean or warmer climes like Australia show a great desire to move here. As all warmth & colour is drained from their faces within weeks of their arrival, the fiercem truth of us Brits endlessly struggling to cope with our climate finally dawns on them.
I firmly believe that when we had the Empire & ruled the world we should have moved the UK (the country & population) to the Mediterranean, and a happier people we would all have been.
But stupidly we didn’t. Duh! And now we’re stuck in a small nation of cold arthritic souls decrying our non-existent summer and our long gloomy winters.
Protection from the Elements
Whilst we traverse our miserable existence, getting ourselves and our possessions from-A-to-B as safely (& cleanly) as we can [it all sounds like a scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail – “You can tell he’s a king- he’s not covered in crap!”], we’ve come up with some useful tools to help us along the way.
Decent coats and motor cars spring to mind here. But to cart around important documents, the intelligentsia came up with the humble briefcase. Briefcases were very big in the 1950s/70s, big in size & popularity. As accessories they sat nicely beside the bowler hat and the rolled-up umbrella. They said, “Not only am I important and work in an office, but I’m also a highflyer who takes work home with me at night…or at least brings sandwiches to work in the morning.”
So, to protect these important items (the works’ accounts & the cheese & pickle sandwich) from the elements, he had his trusty hard man-case, with manly clips to open. No way could this be confused with a handbag! Handbags were seen as something for muggers to steal, whereas briefcases were for hitting the mugger with, to retrieve said handbag to the fair maiden, who would immediately fall in love with you for your manly protective exploits, and a lot of sex would follow, and no doubt lots of babies and marriage, often in that order. Phew.
The Real Man
Ah, you felt a real man when you had a briefcase with you. Not only a carrier of important knick-knacks, it doubled as a weapon. With your umbrella & briefcase, you could imagine yourself as Sir Lancelot with his trusty sword of truth and shield of fairplay..or something like that. With them you could (if the occasion ever arose) re-enact the battle with The Black Knight, or some gruesome scene from Game Of Thrones or Breaking Bad (“I am the one who knocks…then overwhelms you with my briefcase! So don’t mess with me!”). Well, you get the idea of that.
Unfortunately, the male of the species would often return home from his ever-lengthening commute with blistered fingers and aching shoulders from carting around his life in a heavy leather & metal briefcase. I speak from experience.
By the late 1980s briefcases had peaked.
The Rise Of The Man Bag
Meanwhile, the only men walking round with shoulder bags were postmen, long-haired hippies, Boy George, suited ‘80s yuppies with shoulder straps attached to their briefcases, and of course Jeremy Corbyn (although nobody seemed to notice him). You should probably mention Billy Bragg at this juncture as he was arguably more visible.
It took Brit Pop & New Labour in the mid-1990s to finally bring shoulder-strapped man-bags into polite society, with the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Peter Mandleson (the Princes of Darkness…with bags).
But not everyone was convinced. In a memorable episode of Friends as late as 1999, Joey (the red-blooded, womanising alpha-male) has to defend his man-bag to the beta- and gamma- males, exclaiming: “Just coz you don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong.” A great moment in our lives.
But it soon looked right. It wasn’t long before the market was flooded with cool bags with Beatles logos, Haynes Car Manual covers, and Spitfire/Mod/BritPop motifs. The world looked a brighter, sunnier modern, liberated place again in what many now feel was the false-dawn of New Labour. What many feel was a golden era (before we were sold out by the banks) seems to have slipped away, but the man-bag is a residual item of the time.
Now teenagers have taken them up, particularly ones with retro sports company logos (Gola, Dunlop, etc). They probably have no idea which logo was the coolest in the 1970s, as now it seems all retro is cool. As our editor will tell you some of these companies were laughable, but what do they care.
We Are Taking Over!
Don’t be under any illusion: in the future we will be seeing more men with bags. The younger generation have adopted them as the new satchel, only this time with slogans, designs and logos. Whether it’s at school or at the ever-more-popular gaming festivals, the young generation think their bags have something to say. And they’re not wrong.
Meanwhile, the population is getting older, and fifty-somethings roam our streets. They’re not daft, and they’re not prepared to pay 5p for a carrier bag at every shop. They walk amongst us; they are everywhere you look!
The final step for the man bag has been its unexpected arrival in politics, clutched tightly by the Leader Of The Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.
Never mind Trident or the nationalisation of the railways, what will be the litmus test as to whether he is bound for Downing Street is whether he can persuade the electorate that a man with a bag is a man to reckon with.
I think he can, although where that leaves us is unclear.