Rise of the Man Purse
When Lil Wayne appeared courtside at Game 3 of the WNBA finals last week, he looked appropriately badass in a pair of cutoff denim shorts, an oversized Jersey, and a million-dollar sneer. But then, as he cheered on his team, we saw it: there, hanging from his belt, was a small Louis Vuitton pouch, no larger than his palm. Maybe it held his business cards, Kleenex or his house keys, but one thing was for sure—it was a murse.
Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has a favorite Gucci clutch that he carries under one arm with about as much authority as a sideline coach with a clipboard; Snoop Dogg pairs his Louis Vuitton with a shower cap—and Jude Law has been photographed with a yellow leopard-print mini-audiere. Man purses are nothing new. But an accessory that just a few years ago may have called a man’s masculinity into question is now all over runways—from Burberry to Versace—in different shapes and sizes. And with iPads and Kindles to carry, a good man-bag is quickly becoming a fashion necessity.
Everyday dapper men have become overnight style stars thanks to street-style blogs, which have brought man bags into the spotlight. “Man-bags have definitely become more popular, and men carrying luxury bags has become more socially acceptable,” says Meaghan Mahoney Dusil, of The Purse Blog. Stylist Brad Goreski, was a standout example during New York Fashion Week, when he evoked Harry Potter with his neon-green bag from the Cambridge Satchel Company. “As so many things in men’s fashion, it starts off with the gays, and then 10 years later, straight men are doing the same thing,” says Tom Fitzgerald of the fashion blog Tom & Lorenzo.
In calling around about the murse, I saw some themes start to emerge. By and large, men want bags large enough to look masculine and carry everything—but small enough not look foolish if they wind up having to bring the bag straight from the office out to dinner. I’ll never forget arriving at a restaurant for dinner to the sight of my date wrestling a massive mini squash bag under the table. Of course, it obstructed the narrow aisle between tables and was quickly confiscated by the front desk. (There was, needless to say, no second date). Designer Alejandro Ingelmo, who will introduce his first bags for men next season, says functional man-bags are ones that easily transition from day to night. “I wanted something that could go to work, go to the gym, go to dinner and it’s not a ‘gym bag,’” he says. “It’s like the girl who wears flats and puts on her heels at night.”
And while a guy might like Lil Wayne’s music, he doesn’t necessarily share a penchant for Louis Vuitton. In short, not every guy likes a logo. I remember my poor father slumped over a “North Face” messenger bag in the late ‘90s trying, in vain, to remove its logo with a kitchen knife. (He eventually found that blacking out the words with permanent marker proved more effective—but you can imagine how that looked.) “You want something that is modern but not too overly ‘fashion,’” says Ingelmo. “When you look at bags that are functional, they’ve very basic.”
Perhaps nomenclature is part of the problem. No one calls his murse a murse. There are satchels, weekenders, totes, duffels, backpacks—even European carryalls. “Terms are confusing and it’s best to throw them out the window,” says Will Welch, a senior editor at GQ. But Bryan Boy, the Filipino fashion blogger famous for his collection of women’s purses, described the fundamental difference in an email: “A man-bag is something very utilitarian where function is prioritized over form. A murse is the opposite; a bag where form is prioritized over function. Most men who carry murses tend to have a sense of fashion awareness.”
“Murse” might describe what Terrence Howard was photographed carrying at the Academy Awards in 2006—a black crocodile envelope clutch. It was a surprise at the time, but according to Bryan Boy, the choice was hardly fashion-forward. “Mature, middle-aged Asian men (I’m talking about our Chinese, Japanese and Korean brothers) have always carried clutch bags for years,” he says. The most famous murse, however, might be the boat-sized purple crocodile Hermes Birkin bag toted around by rapper Pharrell Williams. “Pharrell being Pharrell, he makes it work,” says Welch. “I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else go out and buy one, however.”
While man totes came back into fashion a few years ago, they’ve been replaced by backpacks—such as the one Jay-Z recently carried at his side like a purse—and duffel bags. But as Welch puts it, there’s one thing that will never go out of style: “A real gentleman’s briefcase. With a cool leather briefcase that’s beat up,” he explains, “no one will accuse you of wearing a murse.”