Out of the Closet

Thu. July 5, 2007 12:00 AM
by Isaiah Freeman Schub

My mother bequeathed me with many things – a dry wit, appreciation for simple, balanced aesthetics, excessive neatness. One of the more exceptional traits kindly transferred to me was a boundless adoration of fine luggage. She has always found it most important to port her belongings in style, understanding the integral nature of an attractive bag to an ensemble while insisting on a certain degree of utility. Handbags in particular drive us both into a state of transfixion where the only action possible is chatter about particular attributes, be it a cleverly-placed zipper or a surprisingly vibrant lining.

Status has never been the underpinning of my mother's relationship to handbags. She can just as easily fawn over a modestly priced Nine West tote as she can over the iconic Hermès Kelly bag, though I must not give the impression she is indiscriminate. In fact, she exercises the utmost selectivity in her purchases. Never is she subject to fleeting "It" bags, which may elicit transient lust, but certainly not a prolonged amorousness capable of altering one's character. Ultimately, the purse must provide her with both aesthetic and functional pleasure. I can't count how many times she found fault with a bag because a pocket was inconveniently positioned or an insufficient structure caused her carefully arranged possessions to shift. When these frustrations become too unbearable it is time to intensify her search for a new handbag with alternate qualities. Of course, her intrinsic regard for design carries this search well beyond the point of practicality.

Quite a quandary then arises. How is it possible for a stylish fellow to express such accessorial ardor so benignly passed unto him? Unfortunately, the notion of a man carrying an elegant purse has not made it into the realm of social acceptance – at least not yet. Slowly but surely portage of chic handbags is being enveloped by masculinity, even if it is being incited by usefulness. Men are recognizing the utter joy of a handbag so far as it fulfills both need and desire. The process is happening gradually, but smart looking bags for men are valiantly carving out their niche. Bottom line: Men are realizing they need a stylish way to carry their crap.

Some of the most attractive and useful varieties come in the form of a hand-held tote. I find this style preferable to the ubiquitous messenger bag, and most certainly a backpack, for a number of reasons. The appearance of a man carrying a bag in hand conveys a message of control and confidence. Rather than assuming the role of a mule, arduously schlepping a burdensome mess of equipage with the full force of one's body, there is a certain power and authority rising out of employing an able hand to carry a bag. Skeptics may argue that slovenly tossing a sack across their body enables their hands to be free – a liberating condition for which, apparently, no amount of visual attractiveness can compensate. These are most likely the people who have no difficulty exceeding their insurance deductible with frequent visits to the chiropractor due to back pain. Even more important than avoiding debilitating dorsal twinges is the preservation of expensive attire. While one usually foregoes the "convenience" of a shoulder strap, the wear and tear which inevitably occurs upon the shoulders of fine clothing is avoided with a sac à main.

Here are a few worthy options, most of which offer work-to-weekend versatility. Ultimately when searching for a bag, remember it is not what we carry, but how we carry it.

Filson Tote

A shining example of a rugged, unfussy man's bag. Since 1897, Filson, a Seattle-based outfitter, has been offering indestructible outdoor apparel and luggage. Constructed from sturdy cotton twill treated with a special paraffin based wax, this tote offers superior durability and water repellency. The handles are cut from tough-as-nails bridle leather, meaning you can fill the commodious main compartment to your heart's content.

Price: $97.50 Available at Bloomingdale's, 900 N. Michigan and www.filson.com

Hamptons Canvas Draft Tote by Coach

Coach offers a respectable number of options for the style-conscious gent (please be careful to avoid anything with their signature "C's" garishly plastered all over it). Though you may not be traveling to the Hamptons anytime soon, this high-quality bag is ideal for daily use. A shoulder strap is provided, but should only be used in desperate situations.

Price: $298 Available at Coach, 208 S. LaSalle and www.coach.com

Enameling Duck Tote
by Jack Spade

Specializing in purposeful and somewhat whimsical utility bags, Jack Spade is well-known for melding style with function. Enameling Duck is a brawny cotton fabric often used in industrial applications, but performs equally well holding a man's accoutrements. A multitude of interior pockets make this a perfect bag for the urban warrior.

Price: $345 Available at Barneys CO-OP, 2209 N. Halsted Street and www.jackspade.com

Comores by Goyard

La Maison Goyard produces the ultimate in high-end valises. The Paris-based company's prestige and reputation for exceptional luggage is apparent in its clientele (including a number of royal families) and durable, lightweight materials. The signature chevron pattern comes in a variety of splendid colors and can be personalized with hand-painted symbols – from monograms to a coat of arms to skulls and crossbones. This refined model's structure is perfectly suited for books, papers, or even a laptop. Upon purchase, relish in your impeccable taste and discreet gentility.

Price: Available upon request
See www.goyard.com for points of sale

Stanton Tote
by Lambertson Truex

American luxury at its best. Pebbled leather trim and resilient cotton canvas make this tote elegantly versatile. Lambertson Truex's commitment to modern design with quality craftsmanship is evident in the expert finishing and array of useful pockets. You will have no problem staying organized with this bag in hand.

Price: $375 Available at Saks Fifth Avenue Men's Store, 717 N. Michigan Ave. and www.saksfifthavenue.com

Pebbled Leather Tote
by Banana Republic

Having the most professional appearance of the bunch, this sleek tote is a great alternative to that ridiculously stuffed attaché you've been lugging to work every day. A zippered top closure and water resistant lining ensure a safe journey for any excessive miscellany you feel must be carried with you. The price is rather palatable as well.

Price: $198 Available at Banana Republic, 744 N. Michigan and www.bananarepublic.com