AA Gill On...Man Bags

What do you put in it? Esquire's Uncle Dysfunctional investigates

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Dear Uncle Dysfunctional,

What the fuck is a fucking man bag? What is a man supposed to fucking put in his fucking man bag? Why does my previously normal fucking girlfriend want me to get a fucking man bag, and is she now showing me fucking bags for men that cost a fucking grand in change? What the fuck is that about? Around here, the things you keep in a man bag are your bollocks.

Neil, Basingstoke

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Dear Neil,

Whoa. Calm down, Neil. Let's start with the name. The problem with a man bag is that it's called a man bag. "Man bag" is obviously unconscionable. You can't go into a pub and say, "Sorry, has anyone seen my man bag?" or, "Nice man bag you've got there, mate. Is it Gucci?" OK. So what if you call it carry-on luggage? See, already your fists are unclenched, you're breathing through your nose again – carry-on luggage is fine. You're cool with carry-on. Maybe even urban rucksack, messenger bag. That's rugged. So we're over the "my dead body" thing, but the question mark still hangs over the content: what do you put in a man bag? An iPad, possibly. If you look at what women carry in their handbags, it's a revelation. And a warning. First, always ask before going through a lady's handbag, even if they're really close by and you bought the bag; handbags are intimate and deeply personal.

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There is a whole line of feminist inquiry that questions the symbolism of handbags, and we don't need to go there. Suffice it to say, you wouldn't shove your hands down a girl's knickers without asking; the same goes for handbags. Women's handbags are incredibly heavy. You rarely get to pick one up and, when you do, you wonder why anyone carries so much stuff around all day. And if you did tip one out onto a table, you'd see that 90 per cent of the contents is rubbish: odd bits of gunk and stubs of splat that are never going to be useful, bits of food, sweets, chocolate, books, enormous amounts of loose change. Have you noticed that almost all the change in the world goes to women? When was the last time you had a five pence piece? Exactly. In a Christmas pudding. All the rest of it is in women's handbags.

They also carry a phenomenal amount of shit that pertains to hair: brushes, sprays, clips, grips, bands, ribbons. When you look through a woman's handbag, you realise that the bag itself is demanding to be filled. "Feed me," it says, "feed me." As handbags get ever more absurdly large, so they need to carry more stuff to validate the expense of this huge trunk with chains, buckles and padlocks on. Men on the other hand have spent a generation trying to get rid of stuff – we dumped the briefcase two decades ago. Carrying shit is a sign that you're a drone, a runner. It's the work experience who carries things. Most of us are down to keys, a phone and a card. That's it.

Get a man bag and it'll start whispering to you –  "feed me, feed me" – and the next thing, you'll be  thinking about getting a Filofax. I've made a random list of things that men used to carry in their pockets and now don't: handkerchiefs, matches, cigarettes, a pipe, pipe tobacco, pipe cleaners, wallet, a cheque book, a penknife, an address book, a diary, an A-Z, a spectacle case (glasses used to be made of glass), a fountain pen.  Men were walking man bags. Suits hung like elephants' arses. No, as you were, Neil – resist the man bag. Carry-on luggage if you're flying, a tote bag if you're on the beach, messenger bag if you're on a bike, rucksack if you're hiking. For everyday, all you need is a phone, a card and a smile. Incidentally, an old gent's put-down used to  be, "He looks like the sort of chap who carries keys". You see, a gentleman of worth always had someone to open all his doors for him.

Taken from Esquire's May issue, on newsstands now.

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MORE AA GILL:

The Art Of Becoming A Man
A Girlfriend With A Past
Being Assertive In Bed
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