Each woman’s conversion to the double-shoulder lifestyle is unique. Anna Swanson told me she started coming into the office with a backpack instead of a purse when she began work as a bureaucrat, which seemed, to her, to be a more “masculine” sphere. I corresponded with dozens of women for this story, and they told me they had grown tired of juggling multiple bags on public transportation or while walking—in heels, no less! They shared tales of trying to squeeze a laptop, makeup, gym clothes, a water bottle, notebooks, and a phone into a classy tote, then giving up and saying, Screw it.
“A year ago, I would have said, ‘You’ll have to pry my leather satchel purse from my cold, dead hands,’” says Silver Lumsdaine, a marketing specialist in San Francisco. “But after standing in a jam-packed bus for a 45-minute, swaying, nausea-inducing commute over the hills of San Francisco with my hand cramping in pain from holding my laptop-burdened purse, I did what any reasonable person would do.” Reader, she got a backpack.
The rise of the lady backpack is mostly being driven by women in cities, especially in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas, Goldstein says. The impetus is roughly the same as the one behind the rise of athleisure and sneakers as officewear: comfort. Women have stopped accepting that beauty has to be pain. “It’s the convenience, the hands free, and not hurting your shoulders. Not worrying about dropping your phone,” Goldstein says.
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Things kicked off a few years ago with mini backpacks, that ’90s-era throwback, says Meaghan Mahoney Dusil, the co-founder of PurseBlog and PurseForum, where my colleague Amanda Mull formerly worked. Then, “people became aware of the impracticality of it all,” Dusil told me via email. After all, “the purpose of a bag is to carry our items.” Enter full-size backpacks.
Fancy new start-ups have come out with lines of professionalish backpacks for women, but according to Dusil, longtime purse designers such as Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton have also all hopped onto the backpack bandwagon. “I’ve seen every major handbag designer offering a backpack version of one of its most popular styles,” she told me. “Overall, consumers are opting for the brand they love and finding a backpack they offer.”
Women who didn’t want to spend a whole paycheck on a bag, meanwhile, sent me links to Samsonites and North Faces, as well as an assortment of is-it-a-purse-or-a-backpack hybrids. Some searched in vain for one that was at least “somewhat attractive.” Several gave up and dusted off the old JanSport.
The flip side of comfort, of course, is pain, and that seemed to be the most common reason that women made the switch. Some women had sustained shoulder and neck injuries from their heavy purses—something chiropractors confirm can be the result of a big bag hanging on one shoulder. “I found my right shoulder—my purse shoulder—started to look lower than the left in the mirror. I also felt some pain from my neck down my right side because of the pressure. So, I got a cute and professional backpack. The back pain went away,” says Lisa Gillespie, a reporter in Louisville.