A Gentleman’s Guide: 6 Ways to Wear a Backpack

In the latest edition of A Gentleman’s Guide, we check out practical bags you’ll want to rub shoulders with and how to choose the right style for you:



  • Photograph by Mr Scott Furkay/BFA/REX Shutterstock

Agentleman’s guide to backpacks? Until recently the notion would have seemed oxymoronic, since no right-minded gentleman carried one. But in the last few years, the backpack has grown up and graduated from schoolboy rucksack (slung slouchily on one shoulder only because giving oneself sciatica in later life was deemed less painful than a wedgie there and then) to the man about town’s preferred choice of bag.

There are a number of reasons for this: from our two-handed addiction to smartphones, to the increasing popularity of cycling, to the relaxation of workplace dress codes and the rise of workwear heritage brands.

Of course, unlike most other bags, the backpack is one you actually wear; it truly becomes part of your outfit. Given that this is a relatively recent trend and one that shows every sign of continuing, here’s a guide to our selection of more elevated and elegant backpacks, explaining how to carry them off in style.


  • Photograph by Mr Tommy Ton/Trunk Archive

If you’re only going to buy one backpack, you’ll arguably get the most value for money out of one like this. It is the bag of choice for the light traveller who doesn’t want to haul a suitcase. Look for a good-quality bag fashioned from the kind of sturdy leather or suede that will age well with you, developing character with patina. This design won’t date. Sportier or fashion-forward backpacks really only suit younger men, but one like this is all-age appropriate. Its versatility means you can dress it up with a blazer and indigo jeans for work, as pictured, or dress it down for a weekend city break.


  • Photograph by firstVIEW.com

One of the key drivers for the resurgence of the backpack in recent years has been the steady re-emergence of masculine brands such as Filson that are steeped in a generations-old history of craftsmanship. Save for the iPhone, there is a timelessness about this combination of military green raincoat and leather-trimmed heavy-duty canvas backpack. With their outdoorsy connotations, backpacks are seen as a manly alternative to the old-school briefcase. Replace the urban background here with an alpine one and this look still works. Waxed canvas hints at a spirit of adventure, whether that involves a mountain hike and a spot of trout fishing or venturing out to taste test a new farm-to-table pop-up in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood. Not so much Mad Men as plaid men.


  • Photograph by IMAXtree

It’s a brave and/or foolhardy man who cycles anywhere in a white blazer. (Let’s assume his bike has good mud guards.) But here we see one of the key advantages of a backpack as a work bag: it allows you to cycle to and from the office – something more and more men are doing. This is particularly useful if your office is a coffee shop or a hot desk at acoworking space, which means you need to carry all your accoutrements with you. There’s a balance to be struck here between choosing a technical bag that is waterproof and has enough cushioning and ventilation when riding, but is also smart enough to be taken into business meetings. The example pictured here just about passes the office-appropriate test, but a darker colour (black, grey, chocolate brown) would be a better bet. One more piece of advice: don’t be in too much of a rush when getting about town under your own steam. Think more leisurely pootling rather than frenzied pedalling or else when you take off your backpack you will reveal a backpack-shaped sweat patch. The wrong kind of slick.


  • Photograph by Mr Adam Katz Sinding/Trunk Archive

One reason backpack sales are soaring is simply that they’re practical. They are a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag: you can fit a surprising amount in them. Now we’re no longer at school, it’s socially acceptable to distribute the load evenly across both shoulders. And instead of cutting off the circulation to your frozen fingers when taking the groceries home, you can keep your hands toasty in your hoodie pockets. Many of the more technical bags have reinforced and ergonomically cushioned straps and separate compartments such as a padded laptop pocket or a sealed section for gym kit. A backpack is a logical extension of that broader sportswear influence that’s had a hold on menswear for the last year or so. Once again beware of any sartorial mismatch: sportier bags lend themselves to sportier looks.


  • Photograph by Mr Stefano Carloni/Mr Tuft

There’s a lot going on in this multi-layered look, but it is assembled to account for changes in temperature throughout the day. Instead of a bulky coat, this gentleman has chosen to wear a down-filled gilet underneath his blazer and a neckerchief underneath his shirt – both of which can be undone or removed if necessary and carried in the backpack. This particular bag sits neatly in the intersection of stylish and functional. The design is clean and minimal and the straps look sturdy and supportive, which is important if you’re going to be carrying it all day. Khaki is a versatile neutral colour that combines well with others, especially navy blue. Our modern-day addiction to smartphones is helping to drive backpack sales. Wearing the backpack on both shoulders allows you to stay hands-free so you can reply to important emails on the hoof (or play Pokémon Go, if you really must).


  • Photograph by Mr George Elder

As a general rule, one’s leathers ought to agree: so if you’re wearing black leather shoes, for example, you would not wear a brown leather belt. Brown leather shoes and a black leather bag? Even more controversial. An exception to that rule, however, is demonstrated here where the smart black leather backpack stands out from the burgundy leather jacket. And that’s because aesthetically it would look odd (borderline hunchback) to wear a backpack over something that is too similar in colour and material. As you’ll note in each of the images in this story, you need some distinguishing contrast in colour, texture or both.

~Mr Porter


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