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What is a Fanny Pack? The Secret History of the Most Controversial Fashion Accessory

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Fanny packs used to have a bad rap. They became notorious as the accessory of choice for tourist dads across the globe.

But do you actually know the history of this bag? What is a fanny pack, really?

Turns out, the practice of wearing a small pouch-like bag around your waist can be traced across the pond to the northern mountains on the island of Britain during the Medieval era.

Belt Bag as Status Symbol

In Scotland, men traditionally wore kilts. They created a waist carried belt bag called the Sporran to give themselves a handy place to keep their daily essentials.

It began as an essential element of wearing a kilt. Soon this leather belt bag demonstrated wealth and status.

The Scottish Sporran - one of the original 'belt bags'

Sporrans are often adorned with leather, fur, or horse hair tassels. They can also be hand-tooled with Celtic inspired knots, dragons, crosses. Often they were ornamented with silver.

The more elaborate your Sporran, the higher your status in the clan. Scottish soldiers indicated their clan and military rank by the materials and the type of ornamentation decorating their Sporrans.

Medieval Bags That Go Around Your Waist

As far as actual evidence of the first fanny pack in the historical record goes, in 1991 it was discovered in the mountains that serve as the border between Austria and Italy.

This simple leather waist bag was found alongside the mummified 5,300-year-old-corpse of Ötzi the Iceman. His pouch carried things like flint and other tools for starting a fire as well as samplings of food.

It took humanity a few centuries before they figured out how to add pockets to their clothing.

They didn’t have to do the phone, wallet, keys check every time they left their home at that time, but there were still things people needed to have on hand.

In the Medieval era, a simple purse called aumonieres were hung from belts and worn by men and women alike. These alms purses were used to carry coins to be given to the poor as ‘alms’ – basically, a custom of charitable gifts encouraged by the church.

Soon people figured out that these purses were useful for carrying more than just coins. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for people to seek out religious relics, and keep them on hand the way someone might hold onto a lucky rabbit’s foot.

In France, the chatelaine was developed as a chic waist pouch for women. The word ‘chatelaine’ refers to the practice of wearing items hung from the waist on a series of chains.

The woman of the house would carry her keys this way, and it wasn’t unusual for women’s waist pouches to also hold scissors, needles, and other sewing supplies.

So, is it Just Another Name for Fanny Pack?

Once again, people are losing their minds over fanny packs. But this time, there are so many different names, it’s almost impossible to not get confused.

Is it a sling bag? Is it a belt bag?

Or what about this one, a bum bag?

So many people have bad associations with the phrase ‘fanny pack.’ There are people who love this kind of bag, and there are people who really hate it.

Guy with a dorky-looking fanny pack

What do you do, when what you call a bag, determines how many people use it? Well, you give it a new name.

In other words, the fanny packs of the world got rebranded.

How to Classify a Sling Bag

Size can vary when it comes to a sling bag, and this is part of why it’s hard to know if a bag has been intentionally made to be worn slung across the shoulders or not.

When it comes to the smaller variety, say less than a foot long or wide, it’s probably a fanny pack.

Fanny pack worn like a sling bag

You can sling it over your shoulder so you can wear the bag across your back or across your chest, and it feels a little trendier than wearing something around your waist like a traditional fanny pack.

The convenience of a 1-strap backpack is likely what lead to the development of the larger-sized sling bags out there.

Guy on bike with a sling bag

If you have a 13-inch laptop or tablet, or smaller, you could fit them snugly in a sling bag. You get the convenience of carrying something across your back, without having to manage the bulk that often comes with a backpack.

What is a Crossbody Bag?

Most of the time, if you search for a crossbody bag online, or you find one in a store, it’s a women’s purse. They have a long strap, so they can be worn over the shoulder, but quite literally – hang across the body, rather than just on one side.

It’s convenient, and if you’re trying to protect yourself against theft, a crossbody bag can sometimes be harder to take off your body.

For men, they tend to call this style of bag a ‘messenger bag.’ Or maybe it’s just a briefcase, with a long shoulder strap.

Crossbody bags are not fanny packs

When it comes to a fanny pack being called a crossbody bag, this just refers to a style of wearing the bag. Just like the term ‘sling bag.’

If it looks like the small, mostly rectangular shape you associate with a fanny pack, and it has a strap that isn’t styled like a long purse handle or a men’s shoulder strap… Odds are you’ve really got a fanny pack.

Who knows if we’ll make a fanny pack, but if we decide to one day…

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Your Bag, Your Way

The truth is, it doesn’t hurt if you think fanny packs are cool, or if you think they’re the most hideous bag ever made.

You have so many options to choose from, without having to sacrifice the convenience of finding the perfectly-sized bag, that can be worn in the way that you feel is most comfortable.

Each body-type is different, and each personality is different.

Whether you decide to hop on board the fanny pack trend train, or find something else, there’s a bag out there that’s perfect for you.

Personally, I detest fanny packs. But a cool sling bag? Now that’s something I can get behind.

~ Gabrielle

Gabrielle grew up in Livingston and Bozeman, Montana. Growing up she had a lot of Red Oxx gear in their home. Most family road trips meant that everyone had to fit whatever they needed in a single Red Oxx bag; soft-sided means a 6-person family can fit everything in the trunk of a minivan. Gabrielle was thrilled when Red Oxx asked her to be a Travel Ambassador. As she likes to say, "I’m a digital nomad, which means as long as I have WiFi and my laptop, I can work from anywhere in the world. Currently, I’m in London where I produce a podcast called Musicians Can Thrive. Over 10 years of my life went into honing my craft writing songs, and researching how to build a career in a new kind of music industry. The podcast is a way to share that knowledge with other musicians seeking ways to make money from their art." Red Oxx is delighted that a woman of such talent is representing us around the world.