Does my bumbag look big?
It's the practical, sleek accessory beloved by market traders. But can it ever be stylish? As bumbags get a makeover, Carola Long takes the 1990s classic out for a test run
Wednesday 10 February 2010
Honestly? It looks absolutely terrible." That's my boyfriend's damning verdict when I model the latest fashion taboo to try and rise phoenix-like from the ashes of discarded trends; the bumbag. The utilitarian pouch in question is a white faux leather version from River Island, covered in metal studs. From a distance, because it's quite triangular, it looks a bit like the kind of glam rock codpiece that Gene Simmons might wear. Perhaps my boyfriend has a point.
After all, since its heyday in the early Nineties, the bumbag has been universally considered about as cutting edge as a cassette player, reminiscent of tourists wandering around the Trocadero in ill-fitting "mom" jeans or leisurewear-clad Walmart shoppers who – excruciatingly – know them by their American name of "fanny packs". Now, however, the bumbag is back and has designs on your waist.
Designer Marc Jacobs led the catwalk revival. He showed a fetching double-pocketed version in tan, logo-embossed leather at Louis Vuitton and smaller, sportier versions for his own label. It's a sure sign that a trend has come out of Dalston and into the mainstream when Marks & Spencer embrace it. The chain will bring out a grey faux leather version in March, while the British designer Christopher Shannon has produced a version for Eastpak.
There are two movements behind the bumbag's return; the Nineties revival and the sports-luxe look, both of which are sweeping through fashion. The Nineties – particularly the early and mid parts of the decade – have been creeping back onto the catwalks, and also into street fashion, with double denim, ie shirts and jeans, crop tops, cycling shorts, bodycon and grunge, all back. Selfridges even marked the revival with a pop-up shop called The Nineties Are Vintage. Amidst the mix of retro and new clothes on sale, there were, inevitably, some bumbags. Head of Creative at Selfridges, Linda Hewson says, " we had new styles from Eastpak and Kipling, and they're actually [cue slight hesitation] ... fairly cool, proved popular." Hmm, if the fashion guru in charge of the shop doesn't sound entirely convinced should the rest of us be? However, what does seem to get Hewson's fashion juices flowing is a pair of tracksuit trousers with a jersey bum bag attached to one hip by Ashish, stocked in the main store. "It's a whole new way of looking at something," she enthuses. "It's a novelty but also really cool, and an exciting new product."
Opinion on The Independent's fashion desk is divided over Ashish's trackie bottoms, but they are certainly on trend, as sports luxe and utilitarian looks were everywhere for spring/ summer. Alexander Wang worked the varsity thing with grey gym knickers and sheer silk tracksuit trousers, Gucci's streamlined skinny trousers and mini dresses featured extreme sports details, while Prada showed cycling shorts in techno fabrics. Fashion's recent preoccupation with clothes that look outwardly fierce but are in fact utterly impossible to breathe/ walk in is also softening, as a certain degree of – gasp – practicality returns. The last few years' handbags have moved away from their original purpose of holding one's stuff, and are often weighed down with so many metal accoutrements that they've become modern-day shackles. Now, however, the bumbag promises unparalled hands-free liberation. But does it deliver? And if so, what price one's street cred?
Surprisingly when I took my banane (French slang for bumbag according to my Parisian friend Nicolas) to the ultimate testing ground of Paris during the couture shows last week it attracted nothing more judgmental than the odd second glance and one wry smile from an understatedly stylish shopper in Galeries Lafayette. Even paying for a coffee and fumbling for change to draw attention, the banane went unjudged. Maybe the Parisians are too used to high fashion – or badly dressed tourists. Having escaped obvious derision I was thrilled to discover the bumbag's gift of unencumbered arms. No more burrowing like a deranged woodland animal into my gigantic sack of a bag for Oyster card, mobile, keys etc, as they were handily organised in my new pouch. I felt like a particularly sorted and on-trend kangaroo.
Ultimately, though, the Walmart marsupial look just doesn't feel sexy or chic; a bumbag is lumpen and ruins the line of an outfit. Laver's Law, the style historian James Laver's 1937 theory about how long it takes for trends to come full circle, often doesn't account for the speed of modern fashion. However, his theory that wearing something 20 years after its heyday looks "ridiculous" was spot-on with the bumbag. It belongs in fashion's Room 101 with other utilitarian items such as mobile phone holsters, granny style shopping trolleys, and those plastic tubes on strings that kids put their money in on school trips. The bumbag is geek without chic.
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