On the occasion of Fête Nationale, or Bastille Day, I’m going to write about a particularly European thing, the man bag.  Like most public transit commuters – or really most travelers of any kind – I’m always looking for the most efficient, most comfortable, most fashionable bag in which to carry all that which must be carried every day.  I’ve had briefcases, I’ve had messenger bags, I’ve had backpacks, I’ve even had a murse or two.  But I have yet to find the one perfect bag for all – or even most – occasions.  Last week I set out with bag maven A to find something large enough to hold a laptop but slim and light enough for daily commuting.

Even though I prefer not to carry a bag that screams “computer in here!” the computer is the item that has the limiting dimensions.  Letter sized papers are also a must but the computer remains a good bit bigger than A4.  The website told me I was looking at 325 x 227 x 24 millimeters, which I decided was close enough to 13 x 9 x 1 inches, so I had a place to start.

First stop, Levenger.  I’ve admired chairs and index cards at Levenger in the past, and I had spotted some interesting bag prospects on their website.  I checked out the Bomber Jacket Messenger and the Esparta Slim Messenger.  Both were well-made, attractive, compact and just big enough for the laptop, but each lacked what I have come to believe is a critical part of a shoulder bag.

Levenger's bomber jacket slim messenger is almost square Levenger's slim messenger in leather-trimmed vinyl

There’s no top handle.  If you keep the shoulder strap long enough for opposite-shoulder use, there’s nothing to quickly grab the bag by.  This was what made me give up my last messenger bag.  Also, both Levenger bags had magnetic closures.  These are pretty but they dont’ really hold if you overstuff your bag, which let’s face it, we all do now and again.  And finally, I was a little concerned about the weather-worthiness of the foldover flap – maybe a little drafty at the corners.

Banana Republic's map bag grabs me with the name, loses me on the clasp

I dropped in on a couple of shops, including Kenneth Cole (too pricey and too mod – hardly any handles or pockets at all) and Johnston & Murphy (too stodgy, too luggagey) but found nothing compelling.

Returning to Banana Republic as I often do, I found what turned out to be called the “Everyday nylon map bag” which was interestng not least for its name, but ultimately failed me on the top handle and the weird clasp.

Tumi's industrial and waterproof modelOver at Tumi, creator of my last messenger bag and current backpack, I found that their designs have evolved a bit past what I’m willing to carry in most cases.  Their Tumi Tech line has gone oddly post-apocalyptic.  I haven’t totally ruled this number out yet, but it does have a bit of the toxic waste container aesthetic to it, don’t you think?  But it gets high marks for weatherproofiness and handles.

Ending the evening with an iFail at the Apple Store, we checked out their selection of laptop bags and found something pretty interesting from Knomo: the Smithfield Stirling North-South Messenger Bag, an attractive vertical format messenger bag fitted to the 15″ MacBook.

Knomo's vertical messenger is green on the inside Back view of the Knomo shows the all-important grab handle

The grab handle is subtle but clearly present, and the inside is a ducky shade of green.  I’m a little concerned about the size (kinda large especially since I’m not shopping for a 15.4″ MacBook), weather resistance, and the sure-to-be-scratched-up-in-no-time glossy leather front, but this bag is clearly in the lead right now. I’m bullish on the vertical format, it seems easier to handle in crowded situations.  Super clean lines are a plus, and a good assortment of pockets on the inside too.Knomo's quilted slim brief - too girly? You should see it in pink.

Perusing Knomo’s website, I saw another model of interest, the well-named Slim Bag for Laptops. I’m a little worried it won’t have enough room for the rest of the junk I carry (too few laptop cases take the power brick or even a power bar into account) or that it look too much like a laptop bag, but it has a certain class and definitely scores on compactness.  The full zip at the top will keep the weather out.  But I wonder if the quilting is just a little bit feminine?  I’ll have to try it on to be sure.

MEL turned me on to this number from the MoMA store

I’m not the first nor anywhere near the last man to have a crisis in handbags.  MEL over at Ishbadiddle searched high and low for his dream bag before stumbling on this little number at the MoMA store.  I’d have to see it in person to be sure, but it looks pretty sharp, if a little backpacky.

And so the search goes on.