Please don't make me look like a badass, I just want to carry stuff
March 5, 2019 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Seeking durable, practical messenger bag with gentle femme-to-soft-butch aesthetic. Example inside.

I've been looking at messenger bags of the Timbuk2/Chrome/etc variety — durable, practical, canvas or synthetic fabric rather than leather. Aesthetically they seem to fall into a few categories: "manliest of urban warriors," "coolest of graffiti artists," "scarfbeardiest of art students," "queen bitch of the sex goddesses," "most colonialist of ethnic appropriators." None of these are really... me?

I actually sighed out loud when I saw the top-left image here, which as far as I can tell is a custom design that was only ever available in person at a store in California. But it's so perfect, and so unlike what's out there in this kind of product. It looks gentle, and calm, and unmistakably oriented-towards-women in a way that isn't about sex or power or money or impressing men. It isn't yelling anything. It isn't trying to overpower anyone. It's just nice and outdoorsy and quietly femme.

So okay. As far as I can tell from the website, I can't have that bag. But who makes one like it? Doesn't need to be the same details or colors — just an aesthetic in the same neighborhood.
posted by nebulawindphone to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (32 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Top left looks pretty standard in design (at least from what I can see?), just unusual colors. Timbuk2 has a lot of color combinations that you can order custom, just in case you didn't already check that out. Or perhaps a Maker's Bag in Aubergine/Northwest Sky?
posted by praemunire at 1:16 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Yeah, just to clarify, it's the color combination that struck me — and those are definitely not colors that Timbuk2 offers in their palette for custom bags, and not the kinds of colors I've seen from other similar companies. If the physical design of the bag is 100% normal and boringly practical, that's a feature and not a bug.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:19 PM on March 5

Lots of places do custom bags - Rickshaw, for instance.

Reload Bags are more expensive, but they're very nice and made by nice people.

Sadly, I can't think of anyone who has the two-tone flap like the Chrome bag does, but Reload used to do a lot of super custom (think applique designs) and would probably work with you.

You might want to stop in at your local independent bike shop and ask them - there are sometimes local people who make really nice custom bags.
posted by Frowner at 1:19 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Rickshaw has the widest range of colors, as far as I can tell.
posted by Frowner at 1:21 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I really love these bags

USED Seatbelt bags The colour palettes are somewhat like what you linked to.
posted by Ftsqg at 1:28 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

May I suggest Black Star Bags? They do very custom work that spans a broad aesthetic range. I have a small hip pouch of theirs I really like.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 1:36 PM on March 5

Seconding R.E.Load--they're not cheap (by messenger bag standards), but they'll make virtually anything you want. Forest City Portage, out of Cleveland, has some stuff you might like. So does Road Runner Bags. Maybe Fabric Horse (maybe not, for color-palette reasons, but it's a tiny all-women company), or Topo Designs?
posted by box at 1:47 PM on March 5

Are you sure you can't have this one? It sounds like you love it. The designer is on instagram; if you love this one the most, why not reach out to them to see if they'd make another for you?
posted by homodachi at 1:47 PM on March 5

I've wanted a Freitag for ages. In fact this question reignites my quest for a Freitag.

That said, I used to use a Timbuk2, and only ever avoided getting a Chrome because the classic one everyone used to have back in the day was too bulky for my frame or needs. So I might be slightly too "scarfbeardiest of the art students" for your aesthetic.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 1:48 PM on March 5

Also, it looks like it is/was $200, according to the store's instagram post. If that's in your budget, you can call them to see if they still have it or would make another one: (415) 874-9232.

(hi i love to obsess over single objects and track down how to get them)
posted by homodachi at 1:52 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

you can do a custom bag design by going to a chrome hub. they're currently in manhattan, brooklyn, sf, portland, seattle, and chicago.
posted by zippy at 2:11 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

How large a messenger bag are you looking for? If you don't need to carry a laptop, I can highly recommend Haiku's To Go bag as a crossbody "carry almost everything" femme-yet-durable option. Have multiple iterations of this bag over a decade old and still kicking. Fully stuffed, mine holds: wallet, keys, phone, small cosmetics bag, 24 oz water bottle, umbrella or sunglasses case or rolled up puffer vest depending on weather, small notebook, pen, external battery for phone, headphones case (yes headphones not earbuds) and whatever book I'm reading at the moment. I could fit a tablet in if I had one, though not one of the larger ones.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 2:20 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I loved, loved the Fossil Keyper line for a femme-but-not-too-femme aesthetic. The line is oiled canvas; the bags can take a real beating. It's been discontinued for a few years now, but you can find stuff on Ebay.
posted by damayanti at 2:27 PM on March 5

Definitely check out Trash Bags. They come in every color combination imaginable and are fully customizable.

Manhattan Portage also makes solid bags in some nice femme options (example 1 example 2)
posted by veery at 2:38 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

I'm on a similar hunt. Are you at all drawn to this Queen Bee Trucker bag? They have a few other styles as well, in synthetic, and you can also get custom colors.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:49 PM on March 5

I love tippy thai at etsy and you can pick your colors. I have several from her.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 3:15 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Carryology just posted their Ultimate Guide to the World’s Best Messenger and Shoulder Bags.
posted by evoque at 5:10 PM on March 5

I have a Bailey Works bag, they do custom orders and have a million color choices. Its a great bag, 10 years old now and still going strong.
Seagull also makes really cool custom bags if you want to go crazy.
posted by TheCoug at 5:13 PM on March 5

My messenger bag/purse is an androgynous one from Moop that I love. Maybe not femme enough for you, but maybe worth a look?
posted by jjray at 5:14 PM on March 5

A friend with that aesthetic has a Tom Bihn bag similar to this that she loves wholeheartedly, and which will probably be my next bag. They come in some softer and femme-r colors and have a kind of modern sensibility without any attitude.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:20 PM on March 5

Vaya messenger bags come in lots of cheery colors, and you can go custom. I know a couple folks who have and love custom Vaya bags that are very pretty.
posted by misskaz at 5:25 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I love love love my Push the Envelope bags. They don't have prices on their site (and they're canadian) but when last I ordered it was below $100 US for a metro, and probably only $50 more for a custom XL classic. Assuming they're still in business (fingers crossed, I may need a replacement after 8 years of daily service) they are very good and responsive to custom requests for fabric or designs.
These bags are bitchin': Durable AF. Completely waterproof. Roomy when needed, flattens down to nothing easily. Adjustable cross straps, down straps and padding in plain black webbing and buckles that do not scream out any sort of gender identity. (nb. when the buckles break, you can easily replace them, but only then you have to get binary regarding male vs. female parts) Custom or not, you can ask them to sew in a keychain fob clip, which once i had it in my life, I never went back, the keys just have their place, securely in the bag.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:49 PM on March 5

I was going to suggest maybe Tom Bihn bags as well. They (IMO) try to thread the needle of being utilitarian without being tacticool, stylish without being painfully hipster, etc. To me they read basically gender-neutral although that's obviously subjective and it depends on the colors and stuff. Some of their messenger bags had a replaceable closure strap that you could easily make yourself (it velcro'ed on) to really customize it, which was a neat touch; you could go for anything from the full Chrome streetwear/seatbelt look to reflective tape or something very utilitarian.

However... Tom Bihn just totally redid their product line, and a lot of stuff they used to make is now discontinued. But they come up on eBay pretty often, so if you like something of theirs, it might be possible to pick one up on the secondary market. (I got one from a consignment shop locally not that long ago.)

The other company whose stuff I like is Tough Traveler (those are their "shoulder bags", these are their "messenger bags", and no I don't really get the distinction), but I don't know if their aesthetic is exactly what you're looking for. They're sorta... normcore? Anorak-y? Anyway, a friend of mine has the "Tagalong II" (which they describe as "a flapped hobo purse", no joke, that's verbatim) as her gender-neutral-purse-equivalent and loves it. YMMV. (Also, they make adaptive equipment for dogs.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:14 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend a custom bag from Trash, but somebody beat me to it. For that type of color combination, you will pretty much have to go custom. I have three custom bags from Trash and I love them so much. They are great to work with and really receptive.

Reload also has great custom color combinations. I almost got a bag from them but Trash was quicker to respond to my inquiries. Now I'm loyal for life.

(RIP Freight!)
posted by kendrak at 7:23 PM on March 5

I own that aubergine Maker's bag from the first comment and the color really is lovely.
posted by Ruki at 7:27 PM on March 5

I bought a Freitag at the store in Zurich in 2006 and have been using it ever since. It’s basic on features compared to Tom Bihn or Mission Workshop but it’s durable, except for the recycled tube piping which is falling off. Each one is unique because they’re recycled truck tarps.

But there are a lot of great recs in this thread.
posted by a halcyon day at 7:42 PM on March 5

I also came here to recommend Black Star. I've had a custom messenger bag of theirs for 4 years now, and it's worn exceptionally well. Better, in fact, than the Manhattan Portage and Timbuk2 messenger bags that I had prior.
(Disclosure: A friend of mine is married to the owner of Black Star.)
posted by D.Billy at 7:52 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I have a Cath Kidston Foldaway Overnight Bag and it's great; holds a 13'' laptop easily (and would probably hold a 15'' laptop too). It doesn't open / close like a messenger bag, but it has a strap for cross-body wear. Lots of very femme designs to choose from.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:21 PM on March 5

Did you call about that Chrome bag? I'm in SF for the week at a conference, I can go to the Chrome store in the mission district and see if they have it available?
posted by nikaspark at 10:49 PM on March 5

Tom Bihn has lots of mentally nonviolent colors to choose from - definitely look into that.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:02 AM on March 6

I have a number of Tom Bihn bags - my daily is the Maker's Bag that's already been linked. I love them particularly for how easy they are to carry and use.

Navigating the site can be a little confusing, but the folks in the forums are great (and if you're looking for the differences between colours or sizes of bags, there are very useful comparison shots in there.) There's also, as others have said, a number of second-hand sales via eBay if there's a discontinued bag that looks like what you want.
posted by jenettsilver at 7:27 AM on March 6

This may not be very helpful to you because it's no longer for sale anywhere, but back in 2014 I bought the Timbuktu Classic Messenger Bag, size M Granite, from their website. It remains the most quietly femme messenger bag design I've ever seen them put out, and sadly they seem to have stopped going in that direction :( But maybe they will again in the future -- my bag is proof that they've done it in the past -- or you can stalk this bag on eBay? If you like the colors, you could write to them and ask for something similar in their custom offerings. What I really like about my bag is 1) the subtle herringbone pattern on the gray body, and 2) *pale* pink contrast, nothing that screams girly.
posted by serelliya at 7:04 PM on March 6

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