Style Defined: Messenger Bag

From horses to the battlefield to bicycles, a history of the messenger bag

The messenger bag is a true golden-oldie of men’s day-to-day luggage. In its simplest form – a one-strap bag slung over the shoulder – the style has been around for so long it’s actually hard to nail down an origin.

Over the years similar bags have been used by utility-men of all kinds who needed easy access to their accoutrements without tying up a hand or two in the process.

Whether you called it a satchel, a sling bag, a carryall, or yet another name, they’ve been donned by dudes from Roman legionnaires to army medics to electronic repairmen. That said, it’s the widespread use by letter carriers, first atop horses and more recently bicycles, from which the ‘messenger’ nomenclature is derived.

messenger bag history

The modern version, as we know it, is relatively universally credited to the De Martini Globe Canvas company. In the 1950s, they started producing a satchel specifically designed for telephone linemen to be able to access their tools while high on a telephone pole. The bags were constructed from cotton canvas and featured a waterproof lining, two closure straps, and a small internal pocket.

As bicycle messenger companies proliferated in the 1980s, they resourcefully adopted the lineman’s bags, with unique coloring signifying a messenger’s affiliation. For extra functionality, reflective strips were added to the design as a safety measure for bikers at night or in inclement weather.

messenger bag history

| BRIAN WEARS | Suitsupply blazer and pants, J.Crew henley and belt, Persol sunglasses, Coach messenger bag, Rolex watch, E. Bannister for HSS pocket square, Loafers c/o Tods | PHOTOGRAPHY | by Rob McIver Photo

Over time, the general public picked up on the trend, with a particular niche found in the student community who find the bags particularly convenient for carrying textbooks (and now laptops).

By now, countless brands have entered the messenger bag marketplace with their own iterations. Design variations abound, from extra pockets to different materials, although it’s interesting to note that the original De Martini version is still produced today, wholly unchanged.

messenger bag history

In terms of modern menswear, the glory of the messenger bag lies in its versatility. It’s not as stiff as a briefcase, and therefore doesn’t feel as antiquated or old-fashioned. Yet, it’s still a classier move than a backpack, and the result is far more grown-up and sophisticated. Swap out the traditional canvas make-up for sleeker leather and an even more luxe look is easily attained.

messenger bag history

Whether you’re a student, a businessman, or just a dude on the go, there’s a lot to love in the now-timeless combination of functionality and fashion.

Thanks for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

Adam Lehman
He Spoke Style

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  • IRVING GOLDGERSSTEIN

    no mention ofJohn peters the founder of manhattan portage and the modern hi tech messenger bag. John also financed the purchase of the De Martini logo currently being made by Dow cover in New Haven ,CT. He was the first designer to use plastic buckles and cordura nylon on bags. Also the use of double folded cordura edge binding that used by every manufacturer now.