Style & Backpacks — A Scale of Bag Formality & Style

When does wearing a backpack look good, and when should you avoid all bags.

I was getting ready to write a post about where I am at with my gear this year. As well as another longer term look at a few Filson bags, then I realized: there is an underlying notion of aesthetics and style which is hard to address when looking at a singular bag.

As I focus more of my attention on my own style, one common thing I read/hear/see is that you should never wear a backpack unless you are hiking — or some shit like that. This usually comes about from men older than I — people who only equate backpacks with hiking or school.

That’s a shame, because backpacks are quite excellent. But there’s some truth to all of this — to the notion of when a backpack makes sense and when it doesn’t. It’s painfully hard to explain, so I made some graphics.

Before we drop into that, I want to give three simple bits of guidance:

  1. The less formal you dress, the more appropriate a backpack is.
  2. Read the room. If no one carries a backpack, then you’ll stand out if you do. And if everyone carries a backpack, you’ll also stand out if you don’t.
  3. More importantly: you do you. If you think you look good, or it’s the bag you need — use it/do it. I only want you to know when you might be bucking against the norm.

Ok, with those important caveats out of the way, let’s look at my new ‘Scale of Bag Formality’ — I have this in two excellent graphics for you. The first is the most simplistic of guides:

The short of this: for most offices backpacks are completely acceptable. The fancier the dress, the lower the strap count. Shoulder straps plus hipbelt is hiking. No bag is Tuxedo.

Alright, the next graphic is my matrix of bag formality, this should give you a better sense of the style range each bag type has. And where you might be hitting the limits — which you should read as areas of concern (aka know what you are doing):

The short of this: it’ll look weird if you go hiking with a hand carry only briefcase in the same way it’ll look weird if you don a tuxedo with a backpack. It’s not that you cannot do either, but that’s a very particular choice.

Keeping all that in mind, I am dressing more towards the right half of each of those graphics — which is why my bag choices have migrated that direction. It is in no way to imply that backpacks are not fucking great — because they clearly are. But a cohesive look is also great.

Alright, get back to buying bags already.

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