Keep It Flat

Small, neither deep nor thick bags are very much seen across the body these days. Do they constitute a trend or, maybe, micro-trend? Are these ultimately clutches with shoulder straps?


Muji labo bagMuji Labo nylon ‘Sacoche’

By Ray Zhang

According to earlier media reports, 2018 is the “year of the bum bag”. The comeback of pouch that was meant to be worn close to the posterior, while evident on the catwalk, is not quite the sac du jour on the streets, where people seem to prefer something less connected to beer ladies at coffee shops. While the bum bag may have its own bag-atop-footwear moment, its real appeal among those without the Supreme/Louis Vuitton version is not immediately discernible since I do not see its visible presence.

The bag to have, if we believe those carried on the streets are a better gauge of their popularity, is compact and pancake-thick: what in Japan is known as the “flat pouch shoulder bag”. Some retailers, such as Muji, call it a sacoche (in various spellings, as expected in Japan), which in French roughly means saddlebag, and may also refer to messenger bags commonly used by cyclists, only smaller—a lot smaller.

Outdoor bagSeen in Tokyo, a lad with an Outdoor ‘Sakosh Shoulder’

In fact, it was in Japan that the trend began to emerge a year ago. So numerous was this bag style seen on the streets that we believed it was going to take off outside the country. And it did. As with many of the bags they carry, the Japanese are far much ahead of everybody else. The so-called bum-bag craze, too, can be traced to what young Tokyoites have been strapping diagonally—and stylishly—on their backs for years earlier. The small, flat bag, similarly, was seen on trendy fashion folks, from Tokyo to Sapporo, before even Louis Vuitton started issuing their own versions.

A helpful salesman in L-Breath Tokyo, one of my favourite outdoor specialty shops in Shinjuku, told me that such bags were originally used by trekkers who wanted to carry their personal effects close at hand rather than in their backpacks, which do not facilitate quick retrieval. These are worn cross-body, but with the bag itself held in the front. Practicality aside, many of these bags by even traditionally conservative brands such as Outdoor are stylishly made. It explains why the stylish folks of Tokyo shop for accessories in the likes of L-Breath.

Gregory bagsOne of the few brands that carry the flat shoulder bag is Gregory at ION Orchard

If you’re used to capacious sacks, these are more envelopes than bags, more cases than pouches. They could be considered, in fact, formerly trending clutches, now with shoulder straps. Users, I suspect, find appeal in their flatness, which is diametrically opposed to the bulk of the bum bag (no fat-shamming here!). These thin satchels are mostly devoid of gussets, so they’re not expandable. In fact, its limited capacity may not appeal to those who have a load to carry when moving about. Some of these bags may even find welcoming an umbrella a daunting task.

There’s a sportif element to most of them: nylon body, waterproof zipping, para-cord-as-straps—with carabiners to secure them to the bag—and all manner of hardware that one associates with mountain climbing gear than urban leather accessories. That could explain why outdoor/trekking/camping brands lead the pack. From Japan-only The North Face Standard to American camping gear and equipment specialist Kelty, these flat bags also augment their standing among Tokyo’s many fashion tribes: they simply look cooler than anything you’ll find in Gucci.

Flat bags on SG streetsFlat bags seen on SG streets

On our island, these bags are not as available as, well, socks. Since the particular style is still popular in JapanI assume, I thought that the best place to look for them would be in Japanese stores. My first stop was Tokyu Hands in Orchard Central, but the flat bag’s conspicuous absence here, in a sizeable bag department, was a disappointment. As I had expected, I found a nice one in Muji (under the Labo sub-brand) and in Uniqlo, where the U line offered one that could double as a waist bag. Unfortunately, they did not have a mountaineering vibe; both, while handsome, looked a tad too garden variety.

Thinking I might be able to court lady luck at a specialist shop that deals with camping and climbing equipment, I happily headed for one of my favourite stores, Outdoor Life in Plaza Singapura, but found nothing there. At Outside in Orchard Central, I was more fortunate. Other than the surprising large Chums collection of bags and such, there were also enticing ones by the Japanese bag maker Fredrik Packers, among them the flat sacks I sought. A couple of days later, while killing time at ION Orchard, I found the object of my affection at Gregory, the 41-year-old American backpack specialists, now also makers of the sacoche—their version, as outdoorsy as the bag could get. I succumbed, finally.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

One thought on “Keep It Flat

  1. Pingback: Two Of A Kind: Strap Something Onto The Left Torso | Style On The Dot

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