Few accessories are more laughable than the bumbag. They are not even worn on your bum – adding “fashion’s greatest semiotic mystery” to their list of questionable achievements. Yet somehow these small, sensible waist pouches are back, thanks to Gucci, the 1990s streetwear revival and, of course, the French, who have fallen for le banane, as they are known.
Could the banana now overtake the baguette bag? Fashion thinks so. They have been on the Kenzo and Stella McCartney catwalks, and have crossed over from Coachella to become everyday items thanks to endorsement from i-D and Parisian label Aswad.
The Gucci money belt, as rapped about by Chance the Rapper, is the gold standard of bumbags, although they are also bestsellers at Asos. In womenswear, their most popular style is oversized with flat pockets, akin to a toolbelt. In menswear, pink, tie-dyed and silver versions have been selling out. Asos’s menswear accessories designer puts this down to bumbags worn across the chest – see Skepta’s Nike bag for reference, which she claims to be the most masculine of all manbags.
Spring/summer 2017 is far from the first sighting of the bumbag. In 15th-century France, it was called a chatelaine and hung from a waist band like an ornate sporran. It also bears a resemblance to the 19th-century buffalo pouch, which was used to carry tools and supplies across plains.
The modern bumbag was actually invented in 1962 by Melba Stone, an Australian, who was possibly inspired by kangaroo pouches, although it took another 20 years for fashion to catch on. In the 1990s, it found a purpose on the rave scene, allowing dancers to go hands-free, and keep their illegal substances dry, a use that would later contribute to another nickname – “hash bags”.
Bumbags have since become staples of the WWE wrestler uniform, been renamed “manny packs” by men such as Matthew McConaughey, the Rock and Jared Leto, and appeared in Sex and the City (Carrie wore her Gucci bag at an angle on her hip). Sexy, corrupt police officers in the BBC drama Line of Duty have them for their guns. In 2011, Diane von Furstenberg brought out a line of hands-free bags – although hers tended to carry Nars cosmetics and keys across dancefloors. And A$AP Rocky, ever the litmus test, has a Balenciaga one.
Bumbags carry a lot of baggage. More than freedom and drug use, they lean towards organisation and airport paranoia, being commonly used to carry passports and receipts. The Rock may use his to carry “Pop-Tarts and condoms” but other versions are used to carry lip balm or foreign currency, or even wet wipes by well-organised Disneyland mums. Will their fashion credentials and practicality ever save them from parody? Don’t forget that Weird Al highlighted their lameness in White and Nerdy, while Jerry once told George in Seinfeld: “It looks like your belt is digesting a small animal.”
The issue is perhaps the name, which led Vivienne Westwood to create a tribute bag for Louis Vuitton in the mid-1990s, designed to actually perch on your backside like a bustle. One solution is to rebrand them moneybags (smaller, flatter, usually worn under clothes), fannypacks (in the US, fanny is slang for bum) or the aforementioned banana bags. Or you could wear yours in a new and interesting way, to distance yourself from the Rock.