Anyone who has gone to a music festival this summer has seen a Supreme shoulder bag. Anyone who has gone to a skate park this summer has seen a Supreme shoulder bag. Anyone who has walked the streets of any major city in any major part of the world this summer has seen a Supreme shoulder bag. (Or at least, I can confirm that they’ve been spotted in Chicago, New York, L.A., Tokyo, Seoul, Berlin, Paris and London.)
And get this: These shoulder bags are essentially just fanny packs worn over one’s shoulder.
Even more ingenious? Supreme calls fanny packs “waist bags.”
Of course, Supreme sells actual shoulder bags, too. This model — made of terylene, a lightweight polyester — retails for $54 in stores but has an estimated market value of $193. And while Supreme has successfully manufactured bags for many years, none have been as culturally omnipresent as their shoulder bags and waist-bags-worn-as-shoulder-bags. “These bags have become super popular in the last two years with Instagram-clout fashion culture reaching its pinnacle,” says photographer, model and stylist Niko Karamyan. “Gender norms have shifted as the pool of cultural references on Instagram have become more and more singular. All the little boys want purses now. It’s a very hypebeast thing.”
Karamyan and I went to Coachella together in April and had at least a couple of these bags in our field of vision at all times. Whether we were in the parking lot, watching a show or hanging out backstage, the people around us were all wearing these Supreme bags across their chests. My friend who attended the Smokers Club rap festival in Long Beach in April said the same thing, going as far to document some of the bags he saw around him from a single vantage point.
“The amount of Supreme shoulder bags I saw at Coachella was insane,” Karamyan confirms. “It was like all the men were debuting their side body bags — myself included. These bags have always existed, but only in the last couple of years did people with the gender identity of ‘fucc male’ feel safe enough to wear them.” (For the record, Karamyan’s side body bag was a green Prada box bag that rested on his hip, not a fanny pack repurposed as a satchel. Also, for the record, Supreme is far from the only designer to make these bags — its models are simply the ultimate cultural signifier of the style.)
And so, as this streetwear staple enjoys its reign as the mainstream fashion accessory of the summer, I looked into all the theories — both Karamyan’s and everyone else’s — as to why it’s blowing up now and why so many guys are finding it useful as it trickles more and more into the mainstream. Here’s what I found…
The Shoulder Bag Trend Started in the U.K. Rap Scene
A few different experts pointed to the British rapper Skepta as the source of this trend, as he wore on stage a small Nike bag across his shoulders in early 2016. Frank, an artist and digital marketer in the streetwear world, says Nike stores in the U.S. don’t typically carry the style Skepta debuted on stage, although it’s common in Skepta’s native U.K., and that while Supreme bags were always popular, the “dinky little ones” didn’t become a must-have item until Skepta set the trend.
That said, “Side bags are super popular in Tokyo and Europe,” Frank explains. “Tokyo has an infamous brand called HEAD PORTER that’s been making bags like this for 20 years. The bags are incredibly functional in cities where you walk all day — like those in Europe and Japan.”
Also, Justin Bieber Instagrammed Jaden Smith Wearing One
“Once Justin Bieber likes something, it’s mainstream,” stylist and costume designer Karen Veliz says. “He not only follows Supreme, but in late 2017, he also posted a photo of Jaden Smith wearing the Supreme crossbody bag on his account with the caption, ‘Can I be as cool as you are please?’ I see that as the moment it became a worldwide trend. My brother wore a Diesel version of this bag in 2004 because it was useful, so they’ve always existed, but they were never considered cool.”
Trendy or Not, They’re Undeniably Practical
“I use it when I’m walking around a lot, especially if I’m traveling or attending an event. I usually carry a phone charger, my camera, keys, cigarettes, a lighter and other random items that are too big to fit in my pocket,” Frank explains. “The bag is cool because it’s not as big as a backpack, so it’s not obnoxious.” They also hold onto one’s precious cargo more securely than pockets.
As for why guys wear them — i.e., fanny packs — across their shoulders, Frank says it makes for “easier access.”
Karamyan has another theory: “I get the impression these guys think strapping the bag over their shoulder is more masculine and less purse-like than wearing it hanging at one’s side or even around one’s waist.”
For its part, back in the spring, GQ openly ate shit for ignoring their practicality all these years (though they leaned hard into the notion that the bags supposed to be worn across the chest, not at the hip). “Dudes are now realizing how wrong we were for depriving ourselves of the style and convenience of a crossbody bag,” Jake Woolf wrote. “That’s because they come not only at different prices, but in every color under the sun and in every possible pattern imaginable — and because they’re unbelievably useful when it comes to carrying keys, wallets, phones, breath mints, illicit substances and anything else that you don’t need a tote for. Frankly, wearing a crossbody feels like unlocking some kind of style secret — that we went this long without wearing them is a mistake.”
They’re Maybe Most Practical for Skaters…
Veliz’s boyfriend is a professional skater, and she says it’s his only bag. “Once he started wearing his Four Star bag, which is another skate line, all his friends followed suit,” she explains. “It’s mostly to carry their weed supplies. They want to be able to carry their phone and blunt wraps without worrying about anything falling out while skating.”
…And for Those Who Want to Appear Super-Busy
“I feel like people wear them now to materialize this idea of ‘busy,’ like, ‘I have stuff. I need it all. And I’m not going home,’” says Jake, an artist working in marketing in L.A. “I don’t think it has anything to do with health or keeping your iPhone away from you balls. It’s simply another item people can use to showcase their style and ‘travelness.’ I understand why nobody wants to wear backpacks anymore — especially if you don’t have all that much to carry — but this idea of being creative and needing your ‘tools’ is in my opinion driving that specific trend. Tools possibly being weed, camera, pencils (lol). Not something you’d just put in your pocket, but not something that you’d want a huge bag for either.”
Ironically, for Something That’s Seemingly Everywhere, It Also Represents Exclusivity
Supreme’s branding (lifted from Barbara Kruger) is extremely recognizable, though the brand itself is known for the exclusivity of its products. In fact, the brand has earned much of its power from its scarcity — e.g., its founder has explained that if 600 people want his products, he will only make 400 available. That, of course, makes the ubiquity of these bags funny.
“These bags are cheap in comparison to other Supreme items, and they feature logos that are always large and repetitive,” Frank explains. In other words, this particular Supreme item provides more bang for your buck clout-wise.
But does its popularity (and relative accessibility) undo that “rare” factor that drives men to camp out overnight and wait in massive lines at the Supreme store?
“It does, and it doesn’t,” Frank reasons. “Obviously they make more bags than their box logo tees and other covetable items, but the bags are still always sold out and resell for way more than retail. The item is way more mainstream than most of their other pieces, but it’s still not so easy to get.”
Okay, Who Are We Kidding? It’s Still All About Fashion Over Function
“The fact that rappers wear them on stage or inside of jackets means these bags are about fashion more so than function,” says a Canadian director who works with too many fashion brands and rappers to want to be named. “It’s like the clout goggles. We all saw those sunglasses before rappers started wearing them and making them a thing, before Supreme started making them every season, we just didn’t care about them.”
Hypebeasts may be addicted to being “first” in a way that’s annoying, but they’re rarely “last,” meaning the shoulder-bag trend is surely here to stay — whether we’re talking about this Supreme version, the higher fashion renditions by the likes of Gucci and Louis Vuitton or the simpler, brandless takes found at regular ol’ sporting goods stores.
What’s the Next Fashion Trend to Go Genderless?
Karamyan believes it will have everything to do with your tank tops. “It’s very slow, but sooner or later, spaghetti straps will reach the hypebeast masses,” he predicts. Think about it: How good would your delts look if your tops allowed your shoulders a little more real estate?