I'll admit: At first, the return of the fanny pack felt a bit like a gimmick. Street style stars were already tapping right into the comfort of athleisure and nostalgia for the ’90s and ’80s over the past couple years. It seemed to make sense that a bag trend—even one that has the mom-on-vacation vibes (I say this as I equate them to my own mother wearing one on family vacations)—would also find a place among those who wanted to push the needle as far as bold personal style goes. But 2018 has me rethinking everything.
For starters, the spring runways came packed with belt bags galore—Gucci, Zimmerman, Prada, Fenty, the list of highly recognized brand names goes on. However, there are also lines, like New York–based Ashya, which landed on my radar and are taking a whole new approach to how we think about arguably the most important and practical part of any outfit: the one that holds all our stuff.
“With the evolution of the travel industry, especially with the millennial generation placing a high value in culturally enriched experiences and the natural desire for adventure, it only made sense to design something that spoke to not only our lifestyles, but the lifestyles of the people around us,” co-founders Ashley Cimone and Moya Annece tell us about their brand built solely with a focus on belt bag styles.
The friends and business partners conceptualized their line in 2015 after a trip to the southwestern coast of India as a means to merge function and style, and ultimately allow for the wearer to live an unencumbered, more enriched life. “We wanted customers to appreciate its beauty as well as its utilitarian value. We designed the bags to hold the essential items such as passport, keys, phones, credit cards, etc. The bags encourage minimalism and hope to give the wearer a sense of freedom and ease with day-to-day travel." As we found out, it’s that last point which most interested fashion psychologist Carolyn Mair, PhD, about this bag trend as well.
Mair is the author of The Psychology of Fashion. And when my own thinking started to shift from Are belt bags a thing? to Why are belt bags a thing in 2018?, I asked her to weigh in on the matter.
“They tend to say ‘I’m really not interested in the frills—what matters to me is in this small bag,’” Mair explains of the style’s very pared-back nature. Much like the arguable hemline theory of the ’20s—the idea that hemline length trends tend to reflect how low or high the stock market may be—or the possible connection between fashion’s penchant for bright colors following the recession of the late aughts, Mair suggests it might not be coincidental that women are so drawn to the fanny pack given the state of the world today.
“It may seem more superficial now to be interested in the frills and frivolity of fancy fashion,” she hypothesizes, relating the timing of the recent trend to the severity of the current news cycle, namely the anticipated economic struggles as a result of Brexit in Europe. Of course, considering the political climate worldwide over the past two years, one might apply this theory of favoring a straight-forward approach to fashion to a bit farther, too.
“This trend is interesting,” adds body language expert Patti Wood, “because it allows you to move, to a certain degree, like a man does.” Wood is the author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma and provided me with even further insight into what wearing a belt bag, as opposed to wearing one (or, at times, three) shoulder bags, might express about its wearer. “I’d be curious to talk to the women [who wear them],” she adds, “and ask what’s it like not to have this dent in your shoulder and have this thing you’re keeping track of all the time, because it gives you enormous amounts of freedom.”
This independence—be it moving “like a man” or simply without anything physically weighing down your upper body—seems to ultimately be the most common standout thread among our experts and insiders. While fashion, as Mair says, is a powerful tool that can be used to create positivity, the belt bag may be less of a gimmick, as initially suspected, and more of a tool to make a woman feel like she’s putting herself first.
“It speaks to a self-focused and self-care attitude,” Woods even suggests. And while, no, a fanny pack certainly doesn’t look like other forms of self-care we may be familiar with—choosing to stay in on a Saturday night so you can take a yoga class Sunday morning or blocking all your social media friends who give their two cents on every news headline—it also seems to be a trend that doesn’t ask you to follow, but rather lead. It’s nostalgic, practical, and doesn’t give a damn about what women are traditionally expected to wear or do or act. If that doesn’t feel very 2018, what does?
If you're as recently intrigued by the trend as I am, feel free to peruse some of our favorite current styles below.