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Belt bags are back and more versatile than ever
Sands Style / Fashion & Luxury

Belt bags are back and more versatile than ever

By Christina Ko

It was a not-so-distant past when belt bags – fanny packs, bumbags, however you wish to term them – were considered a relic of the ’80s and ’90s that, along with shoulder pads and acid-wash jeans, were best relegated to the annals of history. Even in their heyday, they weren’t exactly considered cool – practical, perhaps, thanks to a hands-free design, with a standard kidney shape and belly-front placement that meant you could stash your stuff without fear of pickpockets – but hardly high style, no matter how much nylon and neon was incorporated.

And then, somehow, the world became obsessed with the MTV generation again. Just a season ago, we saw ruched body-con taffeta cocktail dresses at Moschino and Gucci, or bold and out-tothere shoulders at Marc Jacobs and Isabel Marant. It’s only natural that these key tenets of ’80s fashion were accompanied by their most iconic and glorious playmate: the belt bag.

If last season marked the return of the belt bag, this season saw its triumphant evolution. Last season’s incarnations were exploratory experiments in the format: Sportmax and Tod’s debuted classic slouchy waist packs revamped in leather, while Prada’s black nylon version could have easily been pulled directly from the ’80s. Some of this season’s hip bags were inspired by the utility belt

This season? All the rules go out the window, and thankfully so, heralding a new reign for the belt bag as the undisputable prince of practicality and panache.

It’s about time. After an era with its head up in the clouds, fuelled by the rise of influencers and editors one-upping each other with more fantastical outfits in a bid to make it on the street-style scene, the fashion world has been coming back down to earth in a big way. Yes, the ’80s and ’90s had a lot of weird elements – mullets and spandex unitards among them – but they were also a time of comfort. We could wear Converse All-Stars with ripped jeans, our calves were never cold thanks to leg warmers, and heels were not nearly as vertiginous as hair was (Marge Simpson, it should be noted, made her television debut in the late ’80s, too). Designers – perhaps spurred by the circus outside the runway shows that began to eclipse the ones taking place inside – are making clothes, bags and shoes that are, dare we say it, thoughtful, wearable and even marketable.

Chanel’s version was secured to the body by a chain strap-cum-necklace

One of spring’s biggest accessories trends can’t even be called a trend at all, so much as a life choice – designers at Givenchy, Fendi and Chanel sent models down the catwalk sporting two handbags at once, answering the daily styling dilemma of working women everywhere who head to the office from home with a handbag as well as a gym tote, lunch bag or laptop case. At Stella McCartney, girls were gripping logo-emblazoned belt bags in mint, maroon or khaki, with mini bucket bags in matching hues clutched in the same palm.

At Louis Vuitton, too, a belt bag was spotted in hand, with a structured rectangular shape more redolent of ladylike shoulder bags. In his debut for Burberry, Riccardo Tisci, best known for his gothic-glam tenure at Givenchy, also gave demure a whirl, with a riff on the classic flap bag punctuated by gold hardware in the shape of the brand’s new B logo, secured to the waist by skinny chain belts wrapped twice round.

A belt bag was spotted at Louis Vuitton

Another version that sang chic was a complete tone-on-tone look – a terracotta shirt dress cinched by a boxy flap belt bag all cut from the same cloth, save for a smattering of metal studs on belt and box and that gleaming B, this time attached to the waist strap. But that wasn’t all – a buttonhole-closure varnished leather cardholder was also attached to a belt, and released in camel and khaki tones.

Fendi, too, introduced a sleeker spin on the belt bag, having paid homage to the trend last year in a collaboration with Fila that took on a retro silhouette, with double-F monogrammed fabric and the luxury label’s moniker rendered in the sports brand's iconic font. For spring 2019, the concept was completely reinvented, with Karl Lagerfeld clearly inspired by the utility belt. Several of the models sported belts to which various pouches and attachments had been affixed: a mobile-phone-sized pouch, for example, then another adjacent one for cash and cards, plus a dangling key ring and the occasional carabiner – you know, for the gal who’s climbing that corporate mountain. In other instances, the belts were bare but for the dangling hardware. Some featured multiple compartments laid side-by-side but attached like a skirt apron, while others featured a single, sizeable clutch bag with a gold double-F closure. One thing was certain – the Fendi girl needs plenty of storage space. The belt bags didn’t preclude the models from toting extra purses (sometimes two) or wearing clothing with gigantic storage pockets, or crossbody straps with more pouch attachments. While a tough sell for everyday, it was useful in illustrating the versatility of these notions for translation from runway to reality.

Burberry pays homage to the practical side of the hip bag

And while Lagerfeld’s collection for Chanel took a vastly different inspiration, with a beachy bent, utility was still top of mind. Two shoulder bags (one on each shoulder) became one talking point with a wrap closure connecting the shoulder straps in front of the stomach or chest, while a belt bag with flap was also secured to the body by a chain strap-cum-necklace – effectively taking the belt bag out of the realm of ’80s artefact and landing firmly in 2019 as must-have fashion accoutrement.

Yes, ladies, there’s no question that the belt bag is back, and it’s going to be front and centre this season – literally.