androgynous professional seeks purse
March 21, 2015 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Hello fellow MeFites! This question is just what it says in the subject line, so I will put my special snowflake details below the cut.

I am a woman professional and have recently faced up to that clothes from the men's section do not fit me very well and am in the process of upgrading my work wardrobe. The little fake pockets on women's clothes are not adequate to contain my crap, which means I need some kind of small bag to hold the stuff that doesn't fit easily into the pockets of my briefcase bag. I think some kind of a purse is in order, but I am at a loss since I am generally too butch for purses and so the only purse-type things I have ever carried were a gas mask bag in high school and the totally awesome monster purse my friend made me, which alas I cannot reasonably take to work.

I tend to dress androgynous to butchy femme for work. I typically wear a white oxford shirt, black trousers, black blazer, and black doc martens. I want people to read me as appropriately professional and not encourage them to wonder anything about me personally, though I am also not trying to pass for straight.

I am looking for a smallish bag for what is normally the contents of my pockets (phone, keys, wallet, epipen) plus a few items like my glasses case. I would ideally like a bag that could reasonably be carried by people of any gender, that is unobtrusive, and that has a shoulder strap. I would also prefer that this bag be vegetarian.

Thanks in advance, fabulous MeFi fashionistas!
posted by bile and syntax to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I absolutely <3 my Tom Bihn bag. I have the medium cafe bag, which is perhaps a touch larger than you might need, though it's nice to be able to fit a paperback and a lunch container in there (for me, anyway), too. I got it in August last year and it's held up wonderfully. Good quality, super neutral look. Sorta like a mini messenger bag.
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:55 PM on March 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd look for a small leather satchel or messenger bag that looks like something Indiana Jones might have carried. Here's a spendy example from Saddleback Leather.
posted by dialetheia at 12:56 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Freitag is fun.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:58 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Matt & Nat have some great vegeterian bags.
This one is not so androgynous but is the adult version of monster:

This one is more neutral and is styled as totally interchangeable between men/women.
posted by olya at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cambridge Satchel Company is not vegetarian but otherwise would be ideal. You can go with classic leather colors, but their brights are also great. I have a neon yellow satchel from them that I've carried every day for years and is holding up fantastically.
posted by LeeLanded at 1:09 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I carry a grey Manhattan Portage Urban Bag for this, with the ludicrously large logo patch picked off. (Although now I'm coveting the Tom Bihn, thanks carrioncomfort.)
posted by dorque at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also thought of Cambridge satchels. A little googling turned up this vegan version, and there's probably others.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ack! EmilyFlew beat me to it. They have conservative work colors, like taupe, black, and biscuit. Also: you can get the more purse-sized satchels (smaller) if you'd like, or go with the batchel which is roomy and has detachable straps, along with a top handle.

I own four satches - one from Zatchels, two from CSC, one from The Leather Satchel Company, and have written reviews online; memail me if you have any questions. There are small differences between the companies. (Zatchels is having a sale right now, fwiw...)

Not vegetarian, but they are extremely durable, beautiful, and should last for a long time if you take care of 'em. I tend to like them because they're unisex, I currently have a "male" color from CSC ("Marmalade") but really anyone can carry any color. (A guy carrying a pink one would be pretty cool.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Would some sort of clutch or pencil case, or sippered pouch make sense? I think that'll might work better as a pocket replacement than a cross body bag would. Everything is a little loser at hand, and it's easy to set on your desk during the bad, and stash in you larger work bag for parts of the commute. This one has a sort of industrial look that I think would read really different with the style you describe :

Alternatively, there are tons of plain cheap puouches at places like the container store.
posted by mercredi at 1:20 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

(White oxford shirt, black trousers, black blazer, and one of these would look spectacular, imho.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:20 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your standard, unfortunately-named "man bag" is not big, is entirely androgynous, and commonly comes in canvas like this one. Try that as your keyword.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Modcloth has satchels and bags that are vegetarian. Black and White - Brown and Black

I also think that canvas satchels would be good too!
posted by Crystalinne at 1:27 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have carried bags similar to the linked Manhattan Portage bag in the past and liked them, my husband still uses his (also with the tag removed.) I have a few friends with similar needs who swear by their Tom Bihn bags.

I currently use a messenger bag from Wooly Bison on Etsy that I adore. There is a very small amount of leather holding the snaps, but she's a one-person operation and made a mod of about this level of difficulty for me, so it'd be worth a chat if you like the style. (Some of the contrast-color flaps are wool; not sure if it's truly vegan bags you're looking for.) Searching for waxed canvas bags has in general gotten me gender neutral nicer looking mostly-vegetarian bags.

I found out about Wooly Bison on this high-quality-no-shaming bag chat MetaTalk thread, which may be another place to peruse.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might try the search term "wallet on a string." I have had purses that were basically a wallet with a shoulder strap.

I used to get my wallet on a string from Fossil, along with other small handbags from Fossil. However, most of their stuff is leather.
posted by Michele in California at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

What is your budget? Not sure if it's your style but what about something like the crossbodies from the Tumi mens range? I see these for sale a lot at Nordstrom rack in the men's / luggage section. The luggage section of stores should have pieces like this in nylon.
posted by oneear at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am a big fan of LeSportsac for being lightweight yet durable (and non-leather). This small bag in their men's collection might work. You could also look at some of the small bags in their women's collection that come in plain black or black "patent" fabric. They tend to be less embellished than typical handbags.
posted by gimleteye at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The key words to look for is 'map bag'...very similar to the gas mask bag you liked, but generally more formal/squarish. Definitely very military/utilitarian, but simple enough to not be overly so. Think 8.5x11 notebook size, vertical, on straps, with a flap. The one I had had those foldy pleats on the side that let it expand to hold quite a bit. Black, simple khaki canvas strap. I miss that bag.
posted by sexyrobot at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here: this one is quite nice (i had better luck googling 'military' map bag...unless you have a fondness for oversize totes with old-timey maps of the world printed on them >:P
posted by sexyrobot at 2:19 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really love these superior labor company bags
posted by munichmaiden at 2:44 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone!
posted by bile and syntax at 4:36 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Timbuk2 has recently come out with some gorgeous professional-looking not-particularly-gendered bags. Check out the Distilled Collection and the Sutro Messenger, particularly in grey. I have the Rye from the Distilled Collection and I love it--it's a perfect versatile shoulder bag that holds everything I need for the day but isn't too bulky, looks good with casual and business clothes, and isn't overly girly. The rounded corners may make it read more feminine/purse-y to some, but I've seen men around here carry them, too.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can also vouch for the Tom Bihn Cafe Bag mentioned above being awesome and nigh-indestructible.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:34 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well dang, I was going to recommend the wee Jack Spade messenger that has been my purse for over 10 years, but they don't make 'em that small anymore. I find it super well designed (functional and not trendy looking). Jack Spade is ostensibly a dude brand, but I find the bags to be non gender specific. It is what I carry when I need pockets and a little bit more (like say glasses case, water bottle and phone). There is a side zipper compartment where I stash money and tampons. Here is one on ebay, but I like my navy blue one better than that brown. Here is an orange one.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:40 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

(forgot to add that those bags are basically canvas, nylon and metal)
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:42 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might like some of the waxed canvas bags from various designers on Etsy. I have a couple of bags from Moop that are fairly androgynous; you might like the The Paperback or The Paperback Mini. Treesizeverse is another Etsy shop that has a large collection of unisex waxed canvas bags, like this small day bag. Waxed canvas bags often have leather details, but you can message the sellers and see if they can do a leather-free bag.
posted by neushoorn at 4:03 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do you know about Muji? Their straight, simple lines and neutral colors are great for androgynous types. Many of their items are gender neutral (at least they look that way to me). I looked through their bags online. Sometimes their pickings are better than other times. Right now they have this.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 8:28 AM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

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