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The Evolution of the Manbag: 5,000 Years of Cool

Meticulously painted on cave walls, carved into giant stone reliefs, dug out of tombs, and rescued from glaciers and ancient peat bogs—it seems pretty clear that the manbag is the world’s original fashion accessory.

Fashion? You say. Surely there was more function than fashion in these early bags!

But you would be wrong.

Well…mostly wrong. The leather purse carried by Ötzi the Iceman (c. 5,000BCE) was little more than a strip of leather sewn to hold essential tools and carried across the body.

Ötzi the Iceman manbag

But as soon as people developed enough technology to sew a proper bag…things got interesting. One of the oldest surviving manbags in the world (c. 2,500BCE) was painstakingly decorated with more than a hundred canine teeth sewn to the flap.

oldest surviving manbags in the world - decorated with canine teeth

Why is it so gruesomely decorated? Not for function, since the teeth would add weight and wouldn’t contribute to the structural integrity of the bag. Clearly this is the kind of bag that says: I’m a badass hunter. Fear me. Also, I don’t mind carrying extra weight, because I’m super strong and super intimidating. It’s basically the Stone Age equivalent of showing off your Special Forces tattoos while bench pressing a small car.

From the beginning, manbags have always straddled that line between fashion and function, conveniently storing weapons, tools, and food, while demonstrating the status of the man, and telling envious viewers quite a bit about his personality.

After the development of local agriculture, city-states, and standardized currency, the primary purpose of the most fashionable manbags was to carry money, generally in the form of heavy minted coins. To openly carry a substantial purse was to say: I have lots of money, and I (accompanied by my bodyguards/army) am scary enough to deter potential thieves.

manbag manpurse first for to carry money

From a craftsmanship point of view, many Medieval manbags were often simply decorated, with the implied status/threat being more in the implied weight than in the material construction, but there were some guys who just couldn’t resist the embroidery and a few nifty tassels. (This was the beginning of the “my bag cost more than your house” model espoused by many contemporary fans of Louis Vitton and Hermés.)

my manbag cost more than your manbag

However, as fashions became more carefully tailored and form-fitting, the bulky medieval belt purse went out of fashion everywhere except in Scotland, where the sporran is still an essential component of men’s formal wear. (It is still traditionally worn over the crotch, just in case the “bigger is better” Medieval metaphor was unclear.)

scottish manbag also known as a sporran

But for the rest of Europe, men’s fashion required a thinner wallet that could be worn inside one’s jacket. (A fashion and security innovation, since it kept the wallet further from the fingers of enterprising pickpockets.)

one of the first orginal leather wallets

But the social developments that made literacy more common, paper more widely available, and lawyers more prevalent, also resulted in a fashionable leather crossbody bag designed to carry important papers—basically as the precursor to the modern briefcase.

crossbody bag manbag designed to carry important papers

The evolution of firearms also required specialized manbags, designed to carry dry powder and shot. Both practical and efficient, these military innovations were also frequently decorated with elaborate designs and detailed leather tooling.

military innovative firearm manbag

And once the wallet was separated from the manbag—the manbag basically continued to evolve along those 17th century lines—divided largely between the professional bag and the military/athletic bag.

Industrial discoveries in the 19th and 20th centuries gave rise to a diverse array of light, cheap, and flexible fabrics and materials, but (ironically or appropriately), the most durable and fashionable manbags still tend heavily towards the original leather construction.

Industrial discoveries in the 19th and 20th leather manbag

And in that proud tradition, Otero’s designers have produced some of the most fantastic manbags currently available. All handcrafted from full grain leather by a family of artisans in Greece, these bags will tap you into a tradition of superior manbags upheld for thousands of years of years by hunters and leaders, kings and princes, industry captains and global merchants.

otero menswear full grain leather cross body manbag

Taking the Best from History: Otero Menswear. The Perfect Fit.

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