We may not be marsupials, but some of us do need a pouch right in the middle of our chest for things that need to be reached easily. Or, quickly. Or, so it seems
Nikelab iPSA Air cotton T-shirt with nylon pouch pocket
By Raiment Young
I am not sure how much stuff an average guy carries with him on a daily basis, but I am beginning to suspect that the quantity is not insignificant, based on the receptacles now beginning to appear on clothes and those that are designed to be worn in front, across the thorax, above the belly button. It’s not exactly the best place for anything since anything placed against the chest tends to trap heat, but I am not an expert on thoracic needs, utilitarian or decorative.
Sartorially, bags for the centre of chests, if I am correct, first appeared in Matthew Williams’s 1017 Alyx 9SM collection of last spring—chest strap-ons so desirable that the bags turned out to be Alyx’s best-selling accessory. Mr Williams, a Californian football-player-turned-designer and a member of the inner circle of Lady Gaga and Kanye West (he was once their stylist), is also a consultant at Kim Jones’s Dior, where he has created a signature buckle for the house.
Zara polyester canvas chest rig
Around the same time of the Alyx bags, Junya Watanabe also introduced a few of his own, worn in his characteristic anti-OG ways: outdoor gear with beach wear! Mr Watanabe’s chest bags, as the label calls it, are pretty serious stuff: they come with what NS men would know as webbing, which is what I like about these bags. Unlike so many from other brands that I have tried on, the straps of these are designed to go over the shoulder and cross the back, with no discomfort under the arm, as felt by those that follow the shape of the armhole.
As it turns out, these bags do have a name—they are known as chest rigs and, like the field pack, is associated with the army, especially land forces. According to military historians, the chest rig can be traced to those used during the Vietnam war. Apparently, the canvas rigs that were worn then were Chinese-made and mainly for carrying magazines supplied with the main rifle issued, the notorious AK-47. American forces were known to pilfer some of these chest rigs so that they could be copied or worn to blend in.
Timberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak
As with many things of military origin, the bags may not be the most comfortable to strap on, even if they have been adapted for leisure use. Which perhaps prompted garment designers to adopt the idea on clothes instead. I don’t mean one little pocket on the shirt that looks like a cyclop’s eye; I mean big, full-on pouches, capacious enough for you to put smartphone, battery pack, and everything else that would usually go into a bump-bag. One of the earliest I saw was Nikelab’s T-shirt from the iSPA Air project (top-most pic). A fairly heavy-ply cotton tee, the front is affixed with a massive flapped, pouch pocket (as large as those on cargo pants, if you ask me) that comes with a drawstring to secure its contents. That it is available with the inconspicuous yellow pocket (there’s a black version too) that almost obscures the Swoosh adds to its appeal.
Not long after, I came across the Timberland ‘Ecoriginal’ anorak (above). Now, this would not normally have made me bat an eyelid since its pocket would not be unusual for such an outerwear. But, look twice I did because of the size of the pocket and its placement—right there in the middle of the chest. Made of 100% recycled polyester, including recycled cords and buttons (the eco-warrior among you would delight to know), the anorak comes in fashionable colour blocking that, to me, is rather unusual for Timberland garments not destined for Japan.
Chest rigs worn by both men and women
The first off-catwalk piece that caught my eye was a small Nike chest rig worn on a woman at a private event hosted by Bangkok’s coolest home-grown sneaker store Upperground (by the same people who started Carnival in Siam Square). What I found exceptional was that rather than play up the chest rig’s military beginnings, the woman turned it into a study in contrast, teaming the bag with a simple tank top and very feminine, full maxi-skirt. Quite the opposite of how Mackenzie Davis-as-Grace wore hers in Terminator: Dark Fate. Not long after, amid the unrest that took place in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, I saw a guy crossing a not-yet-tumultuous Hennessy Road wearing a Junya Watanabe chest rig with the stylish confidence of someone with a fanny pack strapped across the torso instead. On the multiple straps of the bag, he had assorted carabiners attached, reminding me of those seen on the accessories of White Mountaineering.
On home turf, my encounter with a chest rig-wearing individual was at the recent Club 21 Bazaar. The guy, accompanied by a male friend, stood out, not only for his effortless stylishness, but also for the fact that his bag was able to pass security without being wrapped in that awful plastic bag that they used, and secured with zip ties (also known as cable ties). He was probably the only person carrying a bag that was not hassled and contained, which was a good thing for me as I could finally see a local fellow fashionably togged, affirming that trends don’t always circumnavigate our island.
Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig
Chest rigs are, in fact, now so popular that even Prada—belatedly—has their own version. Called the ‘harness bag’, it is made using what the brand calls a “technical fabric” but looks and feels to me like the regular Prada nylon, it is given a downplay of its war-front provenance by a kooky print that is described as “inspired by the graphic art of horror films”. If price is of concern (and they usually are for single or double-season craze), Zara can always be relied for something on trend, but do consider what I think is really fetching: the Puma X Les Benjamins chest rig (above) that the partners called ‘sacoche’. Misnomer aside, Puma and the Istanbul-based streetwear brand’s collab resulted in one of the cutest chest-rigs I have seen in the research for this post. I find the lightness of the whole bag a plus, and the hi-vis lime green a nice shot of fresh air.
It is tempting to blame Matthew Williams for the trend of take a bag or pocket to the chest. The signs for such a place to position storage spaces were, however, evident with the return of the bum-bag a few seasons back. Rather than site the pouch where they usually rest—above the posterior, hence the somewhat inelegant name, designers styled them as an accessory for the front, across the body. These days, from the coffee shop beer ladies to the dragon-boaters after practice, assorted bags are strapped across the chest like a parent would with an infant in a baby carrier. The task-specific chest rigs’ appearance as a fashion accessory is, therefore, really a matter of time, but have we not always like taking things to heart, if not wearing stuff close to it?
Photos: Chin Boh Kay, AB Tan, Jagkrit Suwanmethanon