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Men Are Shouldering a Load of Trendy New Tote Sacks

August 31, 2000|GREG MORAGO | HARTFORD COURANT

There was a time--a simpler, unencumbered period--when all a guy needed was his trusty wallet. A brown leather thing worn to a dull, satiny finish from years spent snug as a bug in his rear pocket. It held all the essentials: some fivers, a driver's license, a picture of the girl back home and maybe a condom (hey, you never know).

Today, that wallet has exploded. A life complicated by the need for gadgets and creature comforts has made the little brown billfold as obsolete as Kookie's comb. Modern men, especially white-collar workers, are carrying as much gear as women, who have been accused of packing their purses like steamer trunks bound for the Orient.

John Doe now needs a purse-like satchel just like Jane, filled to bursting with a laptop, cell phone, gym clothes and bottled water. These boybags must have compartments and zippered pouches for pens, newspapers, batteries and chargers, notebooks, sunscreen, Powerbars and, yes, the wallet (only now it's made of astronaut-worthy material and closes with Velcro).

All this man-stuff requires the appropriate mansack. There are literally hundreds of smart options for men's bags: satchels, briefcases, backpacks and tote sacks--ranging from sleek, contemporary stylings to sporty rugged gear to tech-conscious totes. Where once there were only limited options for lugging stuff (the hard-sided briefcase or the soft-sided student backpack), men now have multiple choices to match multiple needs.

Walk into any Gap or Banana Republic and you'll see at least a half-dozen styles of manbags. Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean fairly inundate the male customer with bag and briefcase models. Sporting goods and department stores offer almost endless choices, from JanSport and Samsonite to designer labels such as Tommy Hilfiger and Polo. The fashion end of the spectrum, Gucci to Prada, is introducing chic little boybags for fall.

"There are obviously thousands of different choices," said Andy Spade, the man behind the line of fashion carryalls called Jack Spade. "For years there was nothing that existed between the high-end precious designer bags and the casual gym/sports bags.'

Spade said the Jack Spade collection of good-looking utilitarian manbags is that middle. "Men don't like a lot of overt," said Spade, husband of successful girlbag giant Kate Spade. "Men don't like to carry things. They don't want to, but they have to. But they don't want to carry bags that look like purses."

Instead of wearing its clever compartments on the outside like so many backpacks do, Jack Spade bags hide their zippers and flaps on the inside of classic silhouettes of nylon, canvas and wax-impregnated cotton. The line, only about eight months old but enjoying a healthy fashion buzz, is offering some new colors and models for fall.

Spade said that while men are looking for functionality as well as intelligent design, they don't want their bag to look overtly stylish. After all, guys are still a little squeamish about anything that may hint of fussy fashion.

And yet there are men who embrace the new generation of stylish boybags. As men's tastes in their business accessories have grown up, so too have their high-tech totes. That's where Tumi comes in. With high-profile customers such as Michael Jordan, Bruce Willis and Robin Williams, Tumi has added sophistication to its ever-growing line of urban backpacks, messenger bags and business cases.

"The world is getting much more individualistic people who want more choices," said Jeff Bertelsen, senior vice president of design for Tumi, which is sold at major department stores. "Nobody is concerned about having 'the right' business case anymore. They're concerned about it being cool-looking, comfortable to wear and having technological function. We're trying to offer . . . choices that are comfortable and technologically smart."

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