DO THIS DON'T: Wear A Backpack As An Adult

Screw a purse. I'm a grown-ass woman who wears a backpack.
Publish date:
August 16, 2013
asos, backpacks, do this don't, bike riding, Urban Outfitters, aldo, M

This is what it means to be a woman in my family: you learn how to make my grandmother’s streusel and the best way to remove a bloodstain. (Cold water only, hot sets it in. Periods. Ugh.) You also carry a purse.

My mom, my Oma, and my Gutwein Oma do it. Purses probably date back to the ancient German Vikings who made them out of cow skins and butter. Sounds like something my relatives would do.

There was a time in the 90s when I, too, was slated to become one of the pursed. My mom wanted me to stop wearing fanny packs (understandable) and go to the Bon-Ton to pick one out like a normal high school student. But, just, no. I also refused to make anyone streusel. (It’s a very competitive thing in my family.) I don’t need a blah white, grey, or beige (but never a chic greige, harrumph) pleather security blanket. My mom grips onto hers everywhere she goes -- even on the beach in Tulum!

You know what, though? Fuck a purse. Honestly.

I refuse to go from my coolguy 20s straight to mom jeans and blunt haircuts. I’ve carved out a lifestyle for myself that involves short shorts, slip on shoes and backpacks. Yes, backpacks. No joke. I’m taking back the night on this one. I’m redefining what it means to be a woman. No longer do we have to blend into the background of beige purse-dom!

Okay, maybe that’s a little self-righteous. It is, after all, just a bag choice. BUT STILL.

I’ve been a backpack person my whole life. Even when I was a kid, the other girls at ballet had cute little pink purses to carry their pink ballet slippers and pink leotards, and I had a tiny backpack with my name stitched on it.

My niece carries a purse wherever she goes. It contains only lip gloss and candy. Essentials, to a five-year-old. I don’t understand that. It seems to be etched in some females, like the need to reproduce, which I also don’t get.

Here’s why I stay true to my roots, even well into adulthood.

A) I love the backpack lifestyle. When I graduated from college, I bought an armload of pants and button downs from Express. You know the ones. Those light grey corporate casual numbers that scream, “I spend my days at a mid-level office job and hate my life!“

I also bought a purse from a guy selling them on the street. That’s what it meant to have graduated college and be an adult, right?

I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t built for office work. After a few years I was like, “Screw this. Lemme follow my dreams.”


B) Backpacks are the most functional accessory ever. I permanently gave handbags the big “Fuck You” when biking became my primary method of transportation. My over-the-shoulder bag from Brooklyn Industries wasn’t cutting the mustard. (I don’t know if that’s a real expression, but I’m keeping it.)

When I was flying down the Williamsburg Bridge, the thing would move forward from my back to my pelvis and make it hard for my to sit down on my bike. For real though, a one-shouldered bag hurts and I’m not ABOUT to get injured for the sake of fashion. Not my style.

And backpacks are so fun! I love collecting them. The perfect one must be big enough to hold all your stuff but small enough to be unobtrusive on a crowded subway. I prefer smaller ones, but they have enough room for my laptop, have padded straps (for biking days), and a small front pocket for easy access to my Metrocard and keys.

Two-thirds of mine are blue because I’m a tomboy at heart. I’ve always hated pink, though I’ve started liking maroon lately. And dark purple. Anything that looks like a bruise, really.

My first adult backpack was a large, multi-pocketed thing from Brooklyn Industries. Like Wayne from Wayne’s World, (“She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine,”) I salivated over it for months until it was finally in my clutches. Then I realized that it was too big for daily use. It’s more of a weekend getaway type of friend. That’s a good tip: backpacks must have a some kind of cute touch because they’re an accessory, just like a piece of jewelry.

Next, I went ultra trendy and got a Fjall Raven Kanken (pronounced FEE-YALL Raven) and she was perfect, for a time. A dainty little thing that was still durable in the rain. She has a laptop sleeve and everything. She’s maroon and matches with most of my wardrobe. When I got her, though, this woman I worked for who’s Swedish said that, in Sweden, it was only carried by clog-wearing ceramics teachers.

I was actually fine with that, since my future self has striking white hair parted in the center, herbal extracts, skirts from India and a large Golden Retriever.

The unpadded straps on the little Fjall were starting to hurt my shoulders so I got a large O’Hanlon Mills color block backpack from Urban Outfitters. I thought it was going to be great—the color combo was good, there was a laptop sleeve, and it was pretty cheap. But, unfortch, I got what I paid for because that one ripped at the seam after two months.

After that, I went back to the trusty Kankan, but at this point it was a few years old and starting to look a little grungy. I bought a flower hula print number from the guys section at Urban. When my boyfriend saw it, he said it was too loud and I was going to get sick of it. I countered with, “Oh come on! Have you ever seen anything more ME in your entire life?” He was right, though. It’s really intense so you can only wear it with a subtle outfit.

This season, I bought a navy backpack with white polka dots and brown leather trim from Aldo. Light brown and navy are the perfect color combination, I’m convinced. Also, I got it on DEEP, DEEP DISCOUNT, YA’LL. Asos was selling it for $78 but in store it was like $30. It’s a great “dressy backpack” (could I BE any more of a tomboy?!) but makes my back sweat so I don’t use it on my bike.

Even though my old one from Urban was an O’Hanlon, in my head it was a Herschel because they looked very similar. So I boycotted Herschels for a while UNTIL my friend who works at Madewell bought me this little number. It’s close to perfection. The straps are padded. There’s a substantial laptop pocket and an easy access front pocket. The lining is red and white striped. It’s bright. I have nothing bad to say about it. Except that the suede zipper pulls broke off within two weeks. But what do you need a zipper pull for, anyway? If you’re too lazy to pull your own dang zipper than we need to talk.

So, yeah, I have a ton of backpacks. But I switch them up every few days to match my outfit. I find that if I don’t, I get weighed down by all my STUFF. If I use the same bag for a while, it starts to get heavy with excess lipgloss, Tide To-Go pens, receipts, bobby pins, wine keys, and other shit I don’t need. By switching bags to accommodate my outfit, I’m constantly doing an inventory of what I need in my life and what’s essential for my daily journey. (Like I said, my future self is into herbs.)

And I don’t know if anyone thinks I look juvenile or whatever, but I’m trying to be conscious of what I want, as a woman in my 30s, and not let society dictate that for me. My point is this: I’m never going to be superficially perfect, so lemme just chill out and do whatever’s gonna make my life easier.

She typed, while waiting to get a pedicure.