Backpacks Are Having a Moment, and We're Into It

I remember being in high school and making the transition from a backpack to a messenger bag. My oversized, monogrammed L.L.Bean backpack had officially overstayed its welcome — and its cool-factor.

But backpacks are, unequivocally, back, says the Business of Fashion, reporting on the book bag’s entry into street-style and high-fashion. Yet the ones on the racks now are a far cry from the boxy Jansports of our youth; designers are upping the luxury factor on the back-to-school staple. Remember The Row’s notorious alligator skin backpack that flew of the shelves at $39,000? (Yeah, that's roughly as much as a year’s college tuition.) Mass retailers have followed suit, with everywhere from Madewell to Forever 21 producing their own stylish version of the backpack.

So, why are backpacks hogging the spotlight?

“I think it’s for sure honing in on a moment. People are becoming more mobile, riding bikes and are on the move,” Phillip Lim tells Business of Fashion. With the propagation of the companies like Citi Bike, the hands-free freedom that backpacks provide is certainly appealing, and as the younger cousin of the messenger bag, it’s more fun and effortless.

Plus, the backpack seamlessly combines several trends from the past few years. Remember when Prada sent out all their models with skullcaps, and how popular racerback dresses have become? Backpacks nail the sporty-chic look. And we don’t need another celebrity to tell a fashion magazine that her style icon is Annie Hall to know that androgyny is a trend with longevity. Plus, with their unisex tag, they easily slip into the borrowed-from-the-boys category.

Here's another angle: Cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken says over at Slate that the rise of backpack can be taken as a symbol of the centrality of education. Although equating geek-chic staples like reader glasses, oxfords, and collard shirts with the centrality of education may seem like a bit of a stretch, when viewed through a sartorial lens this makes sense if fashion is, after all, a cultural litmus test.

It may take a little bit of a toe-in-the-water approach to dissociate the look from school days; after all, that's where so many of us associate its origins. But with plenty of lines both high and low, integrating the silhouette into their collections, designers have certainly afforded us plenty of ways to embrace our inner Dora the Explorer and hop on the backpack trend.

But, um, if you shell out for alligator skin, just make sure you don’t leave it in your gym locker.