Monday, August 24, 2015

A MANbag...? What a carry-on...

Lord knows what Lady Bracknell would have made of modern France. Not a great deal, if her indignation over Jack Worthing's admission that he'd been found in a handbag is anything to go by.

But a manbag? The metrosexual accessory was thrust back into the spotlight last week by an easyJet passenger getting tasered - yes, tasered - for refusing to adhere to the airline's apparently more draconian-than-I-realised regulations for carry-on luggage. And as if receiving 50,000 volts wasn't bad enough, the 37-year-old flying from Gatwick to Belfast wound up being sectioned. "Following examination by doctors," said a police spokesperson, "he was detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for admission into a psychiatric unit for further assessment and treatment in the interest of his own health, safety and protection of others."

Clearly, there is room for education on the matter. Here in France men routinely carry neat little bags strapped across their torsos. To be honest, I have never enquired as to what they carry in them (and, frankly, am unlikely to) though casual evidence suggests a mobile phone and not a lot else.

Either way, in France, Italy, Spain and other countries where sock-wearing is constitutionally optional and riding a scooter is considered chic and not at all regarded as the result of diminished testosterone levels, carrying such pouches is simply a practical means of carting around one's life essentials.

Being British, however, and genetically predetermined to be as unfashionable as my continental cousins are on-mode, I make do with pockets for this purpose.

This has much to do with the fact I'm an odd shape to begin with, and a few more unsightly bulges caused by keys, phones, wallets and coins won't make the slightest bit of difference whatsoever to my outline. Even owning a wallet is regarded by some of my countrymen as being a "bit of a ponce". Stuffing pockets with cash, credit cards and driving licences is simply the most blokeish means of carrying such items.

Clearly what I'm skating around here, in a characteristically British fashion, is the concern that manbag ownership constitutes some sort of assault on masculinity, or an affectation in the manner of Paul Weller during his Style Council era (Google it...).

Everyday, however, I walk to work carrying a bag containing my laptop, iPad, assorted electrical chargers, notebooks, pens, paperwork and other paraphernalia for my job, and because it's a "computer bag" everything is allright. Same when I take my classic Billingham shoulder bag on holiday, stuffed with cameras and guidebooks,

But strap on something small, practical and apparently not cheap, and you risk the same ridicule that certain cologne-drenched middle-aged men faced during the 1980s, when the 'man purse' made its appearance in Spanish holiday resorts - inviting muggers to a free-for-all on account of it being hand-carried, highly visible and full of cash, plastic and passports.

So, against this foundation of stereotypification and sexual insecurity, it may come as a shock to learn that British men are, today, spending more money on manbags than women are on handbags, if I can be forgiven for the genderisation.

Earlier this year, market research company Mintel discovered that men in the UK were, on average, spending £106 for what was termed a "luxury" bag to carry around, which was £42 more than women who spent an average of £64.

This doesn't, of course, account for distinction between the type of bag. The Clerkenwell creative with his ironic (and bloody expensive) leather school satchel to carry around high-end felt-tips and a couple of Moleskines (you know, for "ideas") will be a somewhat different proposition to Jean-Claude here in Paris. But it is certain that male ownership of 'designer' bags in Britain is growing, adding to a £1.3 billion industry.

Earlier this year fashion market analyst Tamara Sender told the Daily Mail that the Mintel research demonstrated a growing acceptance of men carrying something which, to all intents and purposes, can be likenend to the feminine handbag: "Whilst manbags in the past have been met with mockery, men have now begun to see the item as acceptable to wear most of the time and as they become accustomed to the practicality of using a manbag they are likely to continue to use them as they age."

Which does mean that airlines had better start being far less ambiguous as to what can be regarded as a "personal item". Because, surely, the people needing to be tasered the most are the inconsiderate idiots who try and cram into an overhead locker wheeled suitcases which require the muscle density of an Olympic shot putter to be lifted, delaying the flight as a queue of irate passengers forms behind them. Airlines like easyJet and British Airways - which recently reduced the maxium size of hand luggage to 40 x 30 x 15cm without capping the size of carry-on suitcases - should take note.

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