Men’s Bag Guide – An introduction

It’s a real problem when you see a bag in a certain style, or you can picture what you want to buy, but you don’t quite know the right name for it. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. We’ve created a men’s bag guide, showing different styles of men’s bags. This means that you can find the right term quickly and easily. There’s also some more information on the history of the word, so that you can sound like an expert in all things baggage.

One of the hardest parts of putting this information together is the fact that terms are sometimes used in different ways. This is often down to location, with Europeans using different terms from people in the US. This men’s bag guide uses as universal and standard definitions as we could find.

Once you’ve read this, you’ll know your Gladstones from your totes. Next time you see your dream bag out and about you’ll know exactly what to search for to find it.

If you want just straight to the infographic, click here to jump ahead.

Men’s Satchel Bags

The Satchel

A men’s leather satchel is a bag which features a shoulder strap and a flap to cover its opening and protect the wearer’s possessions. The word itself is borrowed from the Old French word “sachel”, with the first recorded use being in the 1340s.

Satchel style bags have a history which stretches all the way back to the Romans. They referred to these bags as a loculus (or “little place”) which were carried by Roman soldiers as part of their luggage. From the information we have these bags were made from leather, with a flap and a bronze ring to hold it down. A description pretty close to its modern counterpart. There is evidence that Scottish monks, inspired by the Romans, carried similar bags as early as 300 AD. A testament to their practicality, when faced with the rigours of travel.

The satchel’s real leap into popularity as a fashionable item came in the 17th century. The bag quickly became associated with school children and is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. It’s held this position as a school time staple since then, due to its size, style and ability to withstand the unyielding lifestyle of Scottish monks, Roman legionnaires and children.

A high quality men’s leather satchel can be a companion for life. High quality leather may soften over time, but these bags are sturdy, dependable and perfect for every day use.

Men's satchel bag, a popular style of men's bag
A Satchel Bag

Men’s Messenger Bags

With such a popular design, its no surprise that the satchel has inspired other bag designs. Men’s messenger bags are similar to satchels, but have been adjusted to fit their purpose. The bag of choice for bicycle couriers, men’s messenger bags are usually made of light weight, yet weather proof materials. This can include waxed canvas, cotton or even synthetic fabrics. Messenger bags are also made to be worn so that the strap crosses the wearer’s body. This allows the bag to stay attached and out of the way, while zipping around on a bike.

Men’s Briefcases

The Briefcase

A men’s briefcase is a hard-sided bag or case which is made specifically for holding documents. The hard sides ensure that the important papers remain intact during transportation.

The history of the briefcase goes hand in hand with business. The predecessor to the modern suitcase was a satchel like bag called a “budget” which was used to carry money. This is where we get the modern term financial term from. The word briefcase is due to its popularity amongst lawyers, who would use them to transport important briefs to and from court. The body of the case is similar to that of a satchel still, but normally has a shorter handle and is carried by hand rather than over the shoulder.

Men’s Attaché Cases

From the traditional men’s briefcase, came the attaché case. This case is box like and substantially more rigid. Although these cases were originally used by diplomatic attachés (hence the name) they became synonymous with businessmen during the late 20th century. As the world has modernised and the need for transporting paper documents has almost disappeared,
attaché cases are seen far less frequently.

Men’s Backpacks

Backpacks, Rucksacks, Knapsacks and Daysacks are a terminology minefield. These terms are often used so interchangeably that they become indistinguishable.

The term “backpack” started being used around 1910 and we’ve used it as a catchall term for bags with two straps that you wear on your back. It was originally used in America but is now widely adopted in other English speaking countries.


Rucksack is word which was loaned from German and is widely used amongst military forces. The word is a combination of the words Rücken (back) and Sack (bag). Large capacity men’s rucksacks were issued by the British Army during the Second World War and were knows as “Bergen Rucksacks”, after their Norwegian inventor. Since then rucksacks have been linked to the military and alpine exploration. It’s with this in mind that we’ve depicted the rucksack in its large load-carrying form.


The term knapsack was a common name for a backpack up until the middle of the 20th century. The word itself comes from the words knappen (to eat or bite) and sack (bag). Its no surprise then, that these bags were used to store food which might need to be eaten in a hurry. The verb, to knapsack, means to go hiking, often overnight. Taking this into consideration, the ever popular men’s knapsack in our diagram is a traditional bag of a medium size.


Finally, the daysack or daypack is a smaller, frameless bag. It’s designed to only carry the items required for a day’s hiking or activities. Popular men’s daysacks are a staple of student life. They are the perfect size for carrying supplies and have two shoulder straps to take the weight of heavy books.

Men’s Holdalls

Men’s holdalls are the perfect luggage when travelling for a long weekend. The perpetually popular men’s holdall is a frameless bag which is wider than it is tall and is sealed via using a top zip. The bag will also have two short handles allowing it to be carried by hand, as well as a shoulder strap.

Holdalls are available in many shapes and sizes. One popular shape is the barrel holdall, which is cylindrical in shape, giving it a cleaner, look. Another popular men’s holdall is the weekender. This is a holdall which is specifically designed for a weekend away and is sized so that it can be used as carry on luggage when flying.

You may hear holdalls referred to as Duffel bags. Although this is the case now, a Duffel bag used to be a different thing all together. Duffel bag was a common term for a large military bag, with a single opening at the top, closed via a chord or rope. Duffel bags got their names from Duffel in Belgium, where the material they were made from was produced. Over time the term has become synonymous with holdalls in many regions.

Men’s Tote Bags

A tote is a large, often unfastened, bag with two medium length handles. Popular men’s tote bags are often made from sturdy cloth, canvas or jute, favouring renewable materials, as they have become a popular reusable shopping bag. This isn’t to say that they should be seen as a simply a replacement for the plastic bag. High end fashion houses like Gucci and Hugo Boss produce totes from material like suede and leather.

The term tote was first used to describe these bags in the 1900s, with them steadily growing in popularity throughout the century. The modern love of totes is often associated with Kate Spade, who started to wear them as fashion accessories in during the 90s. Since then they have grown to become popular men’s bags.

Men’s Gladstone Bags

Men’s Gladstone bags are small, portmanteau, suitcases, which are supported by a rigid frame and opens in two equal sections. These bags are named after the four time Prime Minister of the UK, William Ewart Gladstone, due to his preference for them when travelling to distant shores. Although they are named after a Prime Minister, many people are more likely to associate them with doctors. Men’s Gladstone bags became a favourite among doctors due to their portability and capacity to hold all the of the tools required by a 19th century physician.

These are still popular men’s bags when it comes to travelling, due to their sturdy build and space. They also have heaps of character.

Men’s Bag Guide Infographic

Our guide to popular men’s bags has been made so that you can understand which bags are which, at a glance. Use it whenever you’re unsure what exactly it is you’re looking for and you easily find the type of bag you had in mind.

Visual learner? Take a look at our other infographics. Click here to see our fragrances guide.