Finding the Best Bags for Svelte Gents

When it comes to dressing well, accessories are often an afterthought. After all, shirts and pants are more important than belts and bags, right?

Sure. But accessories are still important. And the wrong accessories can ruin an otherwise great outfit. Men's bags are some of the biggest offenders, especially for shorter, smaller men.

Here are the three most common questions I get about bags:

“What's the right size bag for me?”

“Where can I find smaller bags for me?”

“How many and what type of bags do I need?”

These are great questions, and I will answer all of them in this article.

First let's talk about size

When it comes to accessories, it's all about proportion. Just like fit is the most important aspect of clothing, proportion is the most important aspect of accessories. Of course, functionality matters too, and you shouldn't sacrifice function for form. But why not have both?

No matter what type of bag you're looking for, there are plenty of sizes to choose from. Bags are easy to shop for online because the dimensions are almost always included in the product description. So be sure to consider size before color/material/style.

This is crucial because many “normal” sized bags look big and bulky on smaller men:

Big messenger bag

It's all about the size of the bag in comparison to the size of the carrier. Just like clothes, most bags are made for the average male (around 5'10” and slightly overweight).

An oversized, bulging bag makes smaller gents look like freshmen on the first day of school. Or land snails.

It goes both ways. If you're a bigger guy, you don't want to carry a tiny bag, lest you be ridiculed by your friends for owning a “murse”.

Little man bag

So how do you choose the right size bag? Just follow this simple rule:

Use the smallest bag that holds everything you need to carry.

In other words, decide what stuff you need to carry, then buy the smallest bag that can carry that stuff.

For example, if you have an 13″ laptop, get a 13″ laptop briefcase like this one. It holds everything you need, but it's slim and has a low-profile. It will compliment your frame and won't be a burden to carry around.

You can also go vertical. While most laptop bags lay horizontal across your back, some are oriented vertically. These are especially good for thin men because the bag won't extend beyond your silhouette.

Vertical messenger bags

If you don't carry a laptop, don't get a laptop bag. Go with something smaller. Think about what you carry on a daily basis. For me, it's some combination of:

  • Wallet
  • Cellphone
  • Coffee
  • Umbrella
  • Notepad
  • Pen
  • Keys

I don't need a 17″ messenger bag with ten pockets to carry these things. Instead, I carry something smaller and more functional. A bag that's lightweight and durable, easy to get into while standing on a crowded train.

This is my everyday shoulder bag:

Small shoulder bag

Tumi Small Crossbody Bag

Regardless of what size bag you need, avoid the extra pockets and flaps and compartments. Do you really need a change purse and pen organizer? No way, brother. Go for something with a slim, basic, non-bulky design.

How many bags do I need?

Most men can get away with just 3-4 bags. My current collection includes:

  • Oversized rolling suitcase (for long trips)
  • Carry-on rolling bag (with a compartment for hang up clothes)
  • Weekender duffel bag
  • Small messenger bag
  • Extra small satchel
  • Dopp kit

At a minimum, you should own a bag for everyday use (a briefcase, messenger bag or satchel), a weekend/duffel bag for short trips, a carry-on bag and a suitcase.

Anything beyond that is extra. You may want a garment bag to protect your shirts and suits on trips, or a Dopp kit for toiletries. But most men will do just fine with the bare necessities.

What are the best brands and stores for bags?

Some of my favorite brands for bags are Fossil, Tumi, Everlane, Herschel Supply Co., Filson, Knomo and Jack Spade. These aren't the cheapest bag makers, but a good bag will last a long time and even get better with age. Wouldn't it be cool to give your old, broken-in leather satchel to your grandson or granddaughter?

Plus, there's something classy about nice luggage. Bags get a lot of mileage (pun intended), especially the ones you use regularly. But even if you only travel a couple of times a year, it's nice to roll through the airport in style. You might even find that staff is a little more polite, and luggage handlers are a little more careful with your things.

Of course, you can still save money on bags. There are plenty of deals to be found around the web. The best places to find everyday low prices and regular sales on men's bags are ZapposAmazoneBags and Nordstrom (when they have sales).

There are also some smaller online retailers that are worth checking out. One of them is Maxton Men, curator of a nice collection of men's travel and grooming supplies. They tend to stock a lot of Herschel Supply Co. and other nice-but-not-too-expensive brands.

Note: Maxton Men gave The Modest Man a special promo code MODEST15 that's good for 15% off of any order.
Wrapping Up

Remember: size and proportion matter for bags, just like they do for clothes. Don't get anything bigger than you need. Keep it simple. Keep it real.

Keep it real simple.

Now go get yourself a new bag. You deserve it.

What's your go-to every or travel bag? Let me know in the comments section below.

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  1. Hi Brock,
    You really caught my attention with this post….had never thought about the issue before. Thanks….will share.

  2. The Carharttt Moore Bag is also a suitable tote for men with modest height. Very functional and is just the right size. I just wish they bring back the colours like solid Cypress or hamilton brown.

  3. I’m not trying to be difficult with this post , but just give people information. What I am saying comes from years of study and practice in biomechanics and structural integration.

    It is said that to be stylish you should avoid backpack type bags in favor of messenger type bags. What isn’t considered is the damage the one sided bags can do over time. They obviously throw your structure off which can lead to all sorts of problems, the least of which would be bad posture. Now even if you don’t care about all the other aches and pains you might get, how stylish and confident would you look when you are standing straight yet your body is twisted and curved?

    Most people I see have some sort of postural problem. I am trained to notice this. Carrying bags on one shoulder is actually a major cause of this, but not the only one. A backpack is a better solution for your health. Like with barefoot shoes, you may lose some thing in the fashion department, but you gain in overall health and this gain absolutely is noticeable. Having a relaxed and natural straight and upright stance, walking evenly, and being at ease will make a better impression on people.

    Maybe they make a backpack with really nice leather.

    We all make our own decisions and I don’t call anyone a bad person for choosing fashionable clothes and accessories over health, but at least have the information to make a responsible choice.

    • Fair enough, and thanks for the info. You can find some stylish backpacks, and I see guys pulling them off with dressy clothes. But it will never look as good as a briefcase or messenger. Speaking of which, a briefcase is a good alternative if you don’t have much to carry.

      By the way, did you see my post on barefoot dress shoes?

      I’m a fan of the barefoot movement. I have some New Balance Minimus shoes, and I wear the Primal Professionals sometimes.

      Totally agree health trumps style, always. If you can have both, that’s the goal.

      Thanks again for sharing.


      • Brock,

        I am wearing Vivobarefoot now and I have TUNE loafers. I am waiting for Mountain of Primal Professional to come out with a brown dress shoe and I will be right on it.

  4. Some advice to those who use a shoulder bag.

    First, try wearing it only on your opposite side for a week or two. After that, switch sides frequently. You should not wait until one side is tired or aching even a little but rather make a habit of frequently changing sides. If you do this, you should minimize any structural damage.

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