Book bags have graduated from college staples to chic carryalls with shoe pockets, phone chargers and convertible straps.
Backpacks are all grown up.
There’s a reason you’re seeing book bags crowding into your daily commute. Today’s chic knapsacks don’t just look good thanks to luxe fabrics like leather – they also pack the essential extras that women on-the-go need, including: Large pockets to tote heels and sneakers between the gym and the office, and convertible straps that take you from street to executive suite.
No wonder many professionals — and even trendsetters like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, both recently snapped sporting Alyx bags (around $1,000 a pop) — are opting for backpacks over purses and briefcases that can be a handful.
“I’ve been using a Pacsafe Citysafe CX backpack ($99.95-$129.95) for about 10 months now, and I’m not kidding when I say that I use this bag every single day,” Danielle Nuzzo, publicist and social media director at i.d.e.a. creative consultancy, told Moneyish.
She listed its locking zippers, padded Macbook sleeve, RFID-blocking pockets and removable straps that can lock to overhead rails on trains and subways as must-haves. “Since I wear it into my office everyday, I’ve now converted four other women, including our CEO, to ditch the tote and opt for a backpack,” she said.
Better yet, toting these bags on your back frees your hands, and while distributing the weight better than a crossbody or messenger bag that weighs on just one shoulder. Dr. Alisha Griffith, 41, an autism parenting coach, credits her backpack collection from Tumi ($95 and up) and Marshalls with fitting her laptop, folders and files, as well as her makeup bag, wallet and books during her Manhattan commute.
“The bonus is having my hands free to hold my phone, cup of coffee or simply nothing … which is perfect for traveling in NYC in the cold,” she told Moneyish. “Fingers get to stay warm in gloves and pockets as needed.”
Liza Bychkov-Suloti, partner and on-air style expert at SHADOW, an integrated marketing agency, was dubious about the school bags herself, at first. Then her client American Eagle released a floral backpack last fall, and has expanded its collection to feature bags ranging from $29.95 to $59. “The weightless canvas miracle instantly became an essential,” she said. “No matter how much I carried in it, it never seemed to exceed weightless, and on top of everything else, it’s weatherproof.”
She then expanded her backpack collection over the holidays with a a 3.1 Phillip Lim black canvas style knapsack with ruffles, compartments and toggle closures that are functional and feminine. And she’s not looking back. “Transitioning from a cross body or tote lifestyle to a backpack is akin to going from traditional headphones to wireless Airpods — now that’s hands-free freedom,” she said.
Backpacks have been shedding their stigma of being relegated to students and tourists as more women spend more time out and about. Even Vogue fashion writer Brooke Bobb recently raved in her column that she cherishes her Prada Vela backpack ($950 on Net-A-Porter) which she writes is “the most comforting thing in my closet.
“I use it almost every single day,” she added. “It’s a little bit of everything: simple, durable, useful, fashionable, sophisticated, covetable. The enduringly cool Prada backpack taught me what fashion-meets-function actually means and, in turn, just how ‘It’ a bag can be.”
Stylists and TomandLorenzo.com publishers Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez agreed. “This trend is a tip of the hat to the way people are living their lives now. We leave our homes and don’t come back for 14 to 16 hours, and we’re expected to pack everything we need to do in that time,” Fitzgerald told Moneyish. “But we’re also living in a very image-oriented culture, and people don’t want to show up to their job with some kids’ backpack.”
Which is why the grade school book bag has graduated to leather and slick nylon fabrics, and from plastic buckles and zippers to metal hardware. In fact, Marquez carries a Marc Jacobs backpack and a bright orange Jack Spade knapsack that always draws compliments. “Fashion is finally starting to understand the needs of the population,” he said, “and carrying everything on your back is just much more practical.”
This also ties in with the athleisure explosion, which shows no signs of stopping, along with workplaces becoming ever more casual. What better way to top off your office-appropriate leather leggings and designer sneakers than with a $950 black leather Alexander Wang backpack from Barney’s, or the sold-out $2,500 Givenchy Pandora favored by stars like Kate Beckinsale, which features a wide top handle to convert the backpack into a tote when you enter packed trains or elevators.
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“It’s youthful-looking and less serious than a briefcase, and it’s easier to carry than a purse,” Marina Larroude, fashion director, Barneys New York, told Moneyish. She has seen a sales boost in The Row’s $2,850 super simple and chic leather backpack, and Fendi’s novelty Back To School $1,680 mini backpack with studs and chains that’s as yellow as a No. 2 pencil.
“Crossbody bags have been a huge hit. Customers just love that handsfree bag moment,” she added. “The backpack feels like a fashion evolution of it. It attracts a consumer who likes the practically of it and who is interested in the next fashion trend.”
Their popularity spiked in 2016, when U.S. dollar sales of backpacks among women 25 to 64 jumped 17% from the year before, according to the NPD Group, with women citing their backpacks were for “anytime” and “work.” Sales increased another 4% last year.
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“Backpacks offer a lot of function – most have many pockets and can hold everything, including tech devices, in an organized manner. And, convertible backpacks (ones that can be carried as satchels or shoulder bags as well via multiple straps) offer versatility. If she’s carrying less one day, or if it looks better with an outfit, she can carry it a different way,” Beth Goldstein from NPD told Moneyish. “So there is still opportunity for more fashion brands to offer functional backpacks for work.”
And you can spend as much or as little as you want in finding a bag that suits your needs and budget.
Going from gym to office? Try Athleta’s $138 Caraa convertible backpack, which has room for a 15-inch laptop and features a removable front pouch that holds sneakers and workout gear, and can be converted into a waist or cross-body bag.
Bartaile has created convertible satchel/backpack/messenger bags ($185 to $325) with micro-suede lined pouches so you can toss your glasses or jewelry in them without worrying about scratches.
Working moms will go gaga for the $149.95 Honest City Backpack, which features a changing pad with a zippered pocket for wipes and other diapering essentials. Plus, it’s made from vegan leather if you’re not comfortable wearing animal products.
But there’s also budget-friendly versions on Amazon, including the Yaluxe convertible leather backpack for $60 that can be carried three ways – as a tote, purse and backpack – thanks to a similar shoulder strap as the Givenchy. And actresses Olivia Wilde, Suki Waterhouse and Jenna Dewan-Tatum have all be photographed carrying Herschel Daypacks, which start at just $40.
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