- Buyer's Guide
From Satchel to Grave
Bags are the most glaring accessories you carry. They’re attached to you everywhere you go, external yet intimate. They’re big, they’re bulging, they deform your shadow.
You’re communicating something about yourself every time you pick up your bag. That’s why I’ve spent most of my life worrying about the bag I’m carrying and the bag I’ll be carrying next. It started in high school.
I was seventeen. It was 2005 and The OC was all the rage. Seth Cohen had given nerdy kids everywhere something to aspire to and I’d noticed that they, the students in The OC, carried satchels. I, being a precocious bundle of insecurity, decided they were What College Students Used.
And there was this kid, Damo, in the year below me. Like most in that year he seemed impossibly cool. He played guitar, looked like he was either malnourished or vegetarian and had a righteous bag. It was spartan and unlike anything anyone else at school had. Different was what I wanted.
It was one of those canvas Aussie Disposals numbers –”military excess” stock favoured by alternative kids, often covered in Sharpie and patches for that rebel yell. Really, they were just cheap and sturdy: they’d never win any design awards but would hold up against most things short of a knife fight.
Of course, I didn’t know that then.
By hanging from the shoulders of a kid who, by the benefit of distance, could be everything I thought myself to not be (carefree, confident, artistically gifted), that bag became a symbol of what I wanted to be.
It was the visual representation of “This place ain’t me” and this place certainly wasn’t. Since then bags have never been just functional for me: they’ve played a key part in how I projected who I wanted to be.
But I didn’t know where Damo got his bag and asking would be ridiculous. I kept an eye out for them as I wandered through stores to no success. I went with the next best thing; hindsight hasn’t been kind to my decision. I bought a bag from Roger David.
Roger David is a retail chain; they sell clothes that look like what a teenager expects an adult to wear. You can see why I was their perfect customer.
And they sold a satchel. Olive green, covered in faux-punk patches and pre-worn. It was what a professional designer thought “this is what indifference looks like”.
But I bought that bag. And I used it. And someone said it looked like a bag a university student would use.
I got an Aussie Disposals bag the second I moved to Melbourne and realised who sold them. I thought myself a proper student, even though I never drew on it.
But everyone grows up eventually.
Adulthood isn’t about carefree canvas. It’s about black, shoulder pads, excessive pockets, “crazy colouring” chosen by a committee to express the “real you” beneath the suit, lifetime warranties and learning some lifetime warranties are total bullshit!
Adulthood is marketing that says “The world should take you seriously but you don’t have to take it seriously” and sells you a bag with a quirky name.
I was in my early twenties and halfway through my first degree. I’d noticed balding men in suits carrying around obnoxious bags with a bad logo. For some reason they stuck in my head.
A friend of mine formally introduced me to Crumpler. We worked at a supermarket together and both had an affinity to spending a lot of money on things we don’t need – mine latent, his overt. We bonded over that.
Crumpler had everything going for it. Comparative quality, people in suits used them, and they gave out boxes of tiny matches with their bags. How wonderfully superfluous.
It’s a nice juxtaposition: bags are far from unnecessary. They get things from one place to another, ideally without getting wet or broken. But they’re not just functional either.
They tell people things. What you do, where you’re going. That you don’t care, that you do. I cared but didn’t know what about. So I bought a Crumpler. It served me well for a time.
Somewhere between finishing degree two and watching Mad Men I started wanting a leather satchel. I’d grown frustrated with the bulk and excess of my Crumpler – it got in the way more than it helped, a mess of pockets and Velcro. It felt like a child, eager to please, offering a dozen different games to play rather than suggesting one with confidence.
(Plus its red lining had started to smell and look brown. I don’t want to know how I caused either of those things.)
I pined over bags that were equal parts rugged and elegant. But I couldn’t justify the expense when my Crumpler was functional.
Christmas was coming. My then-girlfriend asked me what I wanted. I recommended a several-hundred dollar bag I knew she couldn’t afford. We laughed.
“No, really, what do you want?”
Christmas arrived and we met to exchange gifts. I opened mine to find a leather satchel from ASOS.
“Is that okay?” she asked.
It was one of the best gifts I’d ever received.
That was a year and a half ago. The bag hasn’t held up well. Part of the strap has broken off and there’s a hole in one side of it. Compare that to the Crumpler: three+ years and it’s still kicking.
Which do you think gets more use?
You want to be something? Buy something to tell people you’re it. It’s the basis of consumerism – everything you think you lack as a person can be bought. And version two will be available when you realise the first didn’t help.
I’ll buy one of the $250+ bags soon. They still appeal to me for reasons beyond functionality. They’re understated, self-assured, reliable. They’ll live forever.
But I’ll keep my ASOS satchel. Why?
Part of growing up is worrying less about what the outside world thinks and more about what matters. You start looking for meaning, not definition.
A bag is more than its materials and construction. The Aussie Disposals bag was an expression of freedom; the Roger David an attempt to be something I wasn’t. The Crumpler was a step towards adulthood.
My ASOS satchel isn’t just a bag made in China: it’s the physical incarnation of someone who cares about me doing what she can to give me what I want.
That matters. That has meaning. It doesn’t define me. It defines “us” in that one moment in time. That’s worth showing the world.
Plus people have told me it looks “writerly”. That’s a bonus.
Meet our new contributor, Cory Zanoni. Cory writes essays and fiction but invariably draws all over his work. He’s written for ArtsHub, edited for The Conversation and stacked sheepskins for an abattoir. Ask him about it on Twitter.