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My Fanny Pack Fetish

The nonbinary bag that’s no passing fad

Illustration: Yann Bastard

MyMy six-year-old self stans the chunky white Fila sneakers, titty-high mom jeans, and corduroy train conductor hats all you fashion-forward Gen Zers are sporting these days. But I’m not six anymore. I’m a grown-ass human, and this isn’t fashion-forward — it’s #FallbackFriday.

Your community-theater-level Salt-N-Pepa impersonation triggers my PTSD, related to a time when gays were dying of AIDS, the Bush dynasty began waging war in the Middle East, and accessing internet required use of a landline. The United States in the ’90s wasn’t great; I don’t want it again. If the get-off-my-lawn grandpa within me could, he’d rip all the clothing from your closet and throw it into a trash fire with 2016’s MAGA hats as kindling.

Well, not all of it.

Keep the fanny pack. I fucking love the fanny pack. Your multicolored belt bag is my Lisa Frank fantasy; your iridescent pouch is my dollar store dream. I love when its Gucci leather costs an entire month of rent almost as much as I love finding it in my mother’s cobwebbed closet of retro paraphernalia. Most importantly, I love you for reminding a fashion lemming like me why this androgynous sack is a sociopolitical gift from the gods. And so, I beg of you, don’t cancel this pouch like a bad ’90s habit — wear it like a liberal badge of honor forevermore. (No, seriously, you can wear one with a Democratic candidate’s name on the front. Get into it.)

It’s the fashion equivalent of the singular “they” — a fluid, label-defying hero of the modern world.

Never has there been a more necessary accessory. Shirts, socks, and slacks are but immaterial ensembles we elaborately construct like drag queens, while these athleisure pleasure packs have actually found their way into the DNA of the animal kingdom. Look no further than marsupials for proof. Kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and possums are all buck naked hipsters with functional bomb-ass hip purses.

If we humans weren’t wise enough to make pouches of our own, I’d be jealous of these animals’ genetic ingenuity, but we’ve been rocking the F-pack for thousands of years. Ötzi, the 5,000-year-old alpine Iceman, wore one. Men from the Scottish Highlands made them an integral part of their traditional garb. The ancient Egyptians liked them so much they carved belly bags into their hieroglyphs. Mothers of the 1980s, those unsung superheroes who juggled full-time jobs with three kids while navigating the unchecked misogyny of their time, wore them as bulletproof lower abdomen armor. Today, the resurgence of fanny packs has helped boost sales in the fashion accessory industry after years of steady decline. Fanny packs are more than a fashion statement — they’re a way of life routinely tested and approved by humankind.

Neither purse nor backpack can compete. This gender-nonconforming bag is more versatile than Caligula at a sex party and queerer than Christmas in July. It’s the fashion equivalent of the singular “they” — a fluid, label-defying hero of the modern world. Arguing against its practicality is senseless and only makes one look like an unhip conservative trying to control where people should or shouldn’t be allowed to piss. It’s been worn by both The Rock and Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Jimmy Kimmel. It’s been worshipped by the retail giants at Patagonia and Cotopaxi and found room on the runways of Valentino and Vuitton. New York’s Museum of Modern Art featured a fanny pack in its 2017 exhibit — called “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” — and you can currently buy one at the Met because fanny packs are art, goddammit! And let’s be honest — this combo platter of fly fashion and super sensibility makes fanny packs sexy AF.

Consider this bag the shopaholic’s nicotine patch.

That’s right — this utilitarian strap-on makes me tingle with delight. I love it on my back. I love it on my waist. I love throwing it over my shoulder like a continental soldier or wearing it over my chest like a shield. I moan with pleasure when I fill it with my cellphone, wallet, and keys, and still have room for sunblock and snacks. I’m in endless awe when a windbreaker manages to fit inside, and my fanny pack’s zipper closes tightly around it.

But what makes fanny packs genuinely great is their spatial frugality. In an economy where we’re told to want more, the fanny pack reminds us all we need less. It’s the antithesis of capitalist excess. No room in your fanny pack? Don’t buy it. Consider this bag the shopaholic’s nicotine patch. Conducting a never-ending search for house keys in the bottomless pit of your Mary Poppins pack? Wear a booty bag, you fool! You’ll be surprised how much crap you don’t need when you stop dragging around all that bullshit on your back.

I originally bought a fanny pack to wear while biking around New York City in the height of summer’s unforgiving humidity. The smelly, back-sweat-soaked sack I carried before rediscovering this magic pouch of my youth has since been retired to the closet. I’m never looking back. But you needn’t be a biker to fall in fanny pack love. Perhaps you’re a puppy parent in need of a safe space to hold treats at the dog park, or a burner lacking a safe space for your drugs in the sand-swept deserts of Nevada. You could be an erudite student who’s visiting art museums and despises coat-check lines, a parent storing your kiddie’s theme park essentials at Disney World, or the flower person at a wedding in need of a fierce petal-holding accessory. The fanny pack is our bag of the past, present, and future, a purse for all people, an all-times-of-the-year tote. The fanny pack is the pocket your pants never had and the shoulder bag your knapsack couldn’t possibly be.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to ask yourself: Are my clothes helping or hurting? That corduroy train conductor hat that makes you look like Toad from Mario Kart? Hurting. Those wide-leg jeans that make your butt look like you accidentally took a poopy in your pants? Hurting. But the fanny pack, which lightens your load while making you look fly as fuck for understanding the importance of non-gendered practicality? Helping. Its mainstream reemergence gives me hope that your generation hasn’t been completely screwed up by global terrorism and cellphone screens.

Something so fashionably functional should never be forced back in the closet with those untoward skeletons of our past. And even if it is, I won’t worry. Like its adjustable strap, the fanny pack will keep resetting itself to whatever trend happens to be in vogue. But those chunky white Filas? Please, I beg of you, throw them in a recycling bin with those shitty red trucker hats so we can use the broken-down fibers to create even more fanny packs — environmentally friendly fanny packs, that is.

Writer, teacher, and performer based in NYC.

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