Monday, 7 September 2009

Manbags- A Doomed Trend

‘I don’t make things difficult. That’s just the way they get. All by themselves.’
- Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), Lethal Weapon

There was a poignant moment in the middle of last night while I stood in Rififi, Stalybridge’s most popular nightclub.

I was half-drunk on overpriced Glenfiddich and, according to my mates, dressed like a waiter: something had possessed me to wear black trousers and a white shirt with a loosely fastened white tie. While staring into a dance floor full of fine women, I realised that on that particular night I couldn’t have any of them.

But it was not my office attire damaging my chances. Adding to the jarringly formal monochrome, I was carrying a not-too discreet black Ted Baker man bag.

I have carried this bag on pretty much every night out since January. The reason for this: a short-term memory disability, which has been the bane of my existence since birth. Whereas with most men it is more a fashion accessory, I was hoping that, for me, it would be more an organisational benefit- something that would my life easier.

Prior to buying this bag, I’d got by on nights out by jamming essentials into my pockets: the wallet, the keys (house and sometimes car), the phone, an A7 pocket notebook and a pen. All of this gave the impression that, under my jeans, I was wearing a pair of Megatron’s boxer shorts. The angular shapes jutting from my crotch not only looked weird but felt uncomfortable, particularly when attempting outrageous dance moves. I’d lost track of the amount of times my phone had flown out of my pocket while throwing shapes.

This, I now realise, was a small price to pay.

An A5 man bag allows me to carry a diary and a larger notebook, which helps me to stay organised. I can also throw in painkillers (for sport injuries, maybe… or just to quell the effects of the previous night), blog cards and eye drops and nasal spray for hay fever. Despite these ‘plusses’, the bag is first and foremost a highly powerful woman-repellent.

Last night, like on various nights, a woman walked up to me like I was some kind of mannequin- subhuman- with her nose crinkled, fingering the bag’s strap across my chest.

Suffice to say, it didn’t flick her switch.

She’s not alone. People in Stalybridge (men and women) have voiced their disliking of my man bag as have various people in Oldham. I’ve given it half a year to catch on, but I’m resigned to the fact it isn’t happening.

When people have asked about the bag I have tried every response I could think of- from ‘I am a drug dealer’ (a lie, for the record) to ‘it keeps my stuff correct’ to a general arrogant display of defiance, something along the lines of ‘what does it have to do with you?’

Wow. And I used to be such a nice guy. I sure don’t pull as much as I used to, before I carried the man bag.

Surely, you would have thought, I could have foreseen the barrage of prejudice heaped upon me for making this fashion decision.

Maybe I could. But I was enthused by the number- and calibre- of men already carrying them. Matthew McConaughey, David Beckham, Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Junior have all been photographed in public carrying man bags, as have George Clooney, John Terry and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Let’s look to the world of movies- Indiana Jones, whilst venturing through various dangerous regions of the world, carried a brown shoulder bag not dissimilar to those available on the high street today. 

And check out Star Wars. Ever noticed how Chewbacca’s beige satchel blends into his fur?

Nobody would dare take the mick out of those two dudes. However if you’re an unbridled idiot and an overrated fictional character like Joey from Friends, you’ll get an entire episode dedicated to your bag, and people will rip you and call you a homo for half an hour. Or so I read on the Internet. I have an aversion to canned laughter- especially when it is unjustified- hence I avoid Friends like herpes and haven’t seen the episode.


Oh yeah, by the way- remember Barbie? Well, at least the adverts? Remember her fella, ‘Ken’? Guess what the latest model, ‘Metro Ken’, comes with. I’m not even going to say it.

And you might want to check what Jack Bauer has slung over his shoulder in the latest Season of 24…

Aside from the celebrity roll-call, there are men I personally know who carry manbags. All three of them are straight, before you ask, and all three are- or have been- professional cage fighters. One is a well-known instructor of Mixed Martial Arts.

I suppose you can carry a man bag off if you’re a big guy with a shaved head and generally look mean. When you’re a regular 65kg guy, it’s not so easy to master. Even if I reached for the clippers- and I may do soon out of a need for a fresh start- it’s still not going to balance out the potential risk of being a walking fashion disaster.

One other possibility is that I shell out more. I spent £20 on my Ted Baker man bag. Functionally it’s sound, with a long cover flap, a zip pocket for coins on the front, a spacious interior and a couple of hidden pockets. No elastic loop for pens though, or a zip lid for waterproofing. The whole thing is somewhat nondescript- which could be a virtue, but isn’t.

I asked a friend of mine his opinion- he’s usually dripping in Vivienne Westwood and All Saints gear. He knows the fashionista score.

‘If you’re going to carry a bag,’ he suggests, ‘I’d invest in a pimp-arsed man bag. Something like Gucci. But spend a minimum of £100, £120. For you, it would be a worthwhile investment.’

I considered this, but a quick scoot around the trendiest stockists in Manchester proved that bags of this price range don’t look much different from my own. And in a packed, darkened club, which woman would care? All she would see is the black strap, and that doubtful expression would return.

One other issue with wearing a man bag is the slightly different kind of attention you might also get. In one unnameable bar in Oldham, a young, skinny but dodgy-looking man stopped me in the corridor to the toilets. You can forget you’re wearing a bag that light.

‘E’yare mate,’ he said quietly, looking over his shoulder. He tapped the side of his nose. ‘You got any sniff?’

I’d not been asked for drugs before. I’m not proud of it, but I suppose it’s a milestone of sorts. So aside from an affinity with drug dealers, along with some of the most lethally skilled men in Britain, gays and people who are so internationally famous they can wear whatever the hell they like and not have to deal with people’s attitudes, the man bag may not be particularly popular- at least not for the next few years.

For the time being I’ll just go back to more compact notebooks and more jammed pockets, and my man bag will be resigned to the storage unit for all redundant fashion accessories- the cupboard.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


I wrote in to my local paper after a documentary on my town’s light life was shown on BBC1. The Panorama investigation exposed the bar area of the town as being possibly the most violent in the country. However, many people on Facebook complained that it was one-sided and gave the town a bad name. I felt it necessary to remind people of their responsibilities. Here’s my letter, published in the Oldham Evening Chronicle, which they printed pretty much word-for-word.

The recent Panorama documentary on Yorkshire Street, followed by numerous readers’ letters, have failed to hit the nail on the head with regards to the town’s problems.

Even though alcohol is available- sometimes at low prices- in the town, it should not be regarded as the primary cause of the problem. Here’s why:

1) Cheap booze is available through off-licences. Where’s the documentary on them?
2) If you watch the troublemakers on Yorkshire St, a lot of them drink a particular brand known to be ‘reassuringly expensive’- far from the price of the drinks on offer.
3) In Manchester’s Oxford Road, by comparison, students can take advantage of cheap drinks every night of the week. I was a student a few years ago. I saw one fight on Oxford Road in three years. And regrettably, I went out a LOT.
4) It is not uncommon in Oldham to see trouble occur around 9pm- a time when people are only just starting to drink.
5) Most importantly, the only people who are allowed to drink in these bars are ADULTS. Being an adult means taking responsibility for your own actions. If you are violent after a few drinks, it is your fault. Not the booze. Not the bars’.

The solution in Oldham is not to hike up prices (thereby punishing well-intentioned, careful drinkers- and yes, there are a few), but to reprimand the people causing the problems who don’t want to act like adults. We could also educate youngsters in school on the issue of alcohol, as it will undoubtedly be a common theme for the rest of their lives- just like it is for most adults today.