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See You, Wheelie Bag. The Duffle Is Back

Stylish travelers are rejecting roller bags for over-the-shoulder duffles in leather or canvas that evoke Indiana Jones. Modern travel is a drag, but your bag shouldn’t be.


By

Jacob Gallagher

TRAVEL MAY be a drag, but Andy Spade believes your carry-on shouldn’t be. “A roller bag looks like you’re pulling groceries behind you,” sniffed the co-founder of the creative consultancy Partners & Spade. “It’s like your bag is on a leash.” Instead, the former owner of New York luggage company Jack Spade totes an over-the-shoulder duffle from either the North Face or Patagonia. Mr. Spade’s adamant opinions on this subject influenced the product line of Jack Spade while he was there: The company never once made a telescoping-handle carry-on wheelie bag. For him, a wheelie symbolized the stress of a harried traveler barreling through the airport to catch a flight. In contrast, a duffle radiates rugged sophistication (think “Out of Africa”), restoring dignity to modern travel, which is otherwise so mortifying.

Shoulder bags aren’t just some perverse exercise in nostalgia, however. They also offer efficiency, said Matthew Stuart Janney, a frequent flier who traveled extensively when he worked for Ralph Lauren in Hong Kong. “Roller bags may look beautiful, but the new ones lack pockets on the outside,” said Mr. Janney, who strove to correct that deficiency with Stuart & Lau, a shoulder-bag-focused luggage line he started in 2016 with business partner Jimmy Lau. Outer compartments keep a mini iPad or passport at hand, not to mention snacks to fuel the tiresome trek through LAX or O’Hare.

‘A duffle bag radiates rugged sophistication (think ‘Out of Africa’).’

And let’s talk about the space advantage: Typically, airline guidelines limit carry-on bags to 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches; a duffle needn’t sacrifice space to wheels and rods, so you can cram in more, said Lindy McDonough, the designer and creative director of Lotuff, a Providence, R.I., leather-goods company. Ms. McDonough finds that her 19-inch duffle bag lets her pack five day’s worth of clothing, more than the three her previous bags allowed.

Some men complain that a leather duffle is heavy, a concern that brands such as Everlane, Best Made Co. and L.L. Bean have addressed by making duffles in light, sturdy cotton. Other men suck it up, willing to shoulder a little more burden for the stylishness of hide. After all, a well-appointed leather bag from a heritage label such as Ghurka or Frank Clegg matures with wear, giving the carry-on bag a rugged allure. “Remember Indiana Jones’ beautiful, beat-up leather bag?” said Ms. McDonough. “That’s the effect you want.” It shows that you’re a seasoned traveler—someone who has gone places—even if the destination was Miami and not the Well of the Souls with its room of slithering snakes. And when the TSA agent completes the pat-down, your bag will be a familiar, wrinkly-leather face, waiting for you at the end of the security conveyer belt.

SHOULDERED AND WISER

These five bags, pliable and highly stuffable, adhere to rigid TSA dimension rules

Upscale Canvas

London-based bag brand Troubadour punctuates its canvas carryall with black leather trim. Bag, $695, troubadourgoods.com

Forecast: Portable

The nylon twill duffle from upstart label Stuart & Lau has a rubber waterproof backing. Bag, $385, stuartandlau.com

Classic Rocks

This leather Lotuff weekender will age gracefully as you rack up frequent flier miles. Bag, $1,200, lotuffleather.com

Handsome Handler

Lengthen the strap to shoulder length on this Hermès bag if you need to sprint to the gate. Bag, $3,800, hermes.com

Pocket the Difference

J. Crew’s nylon duffle offers a 747-ready upgrade to the gym bag, with eight cavernous pockets. Bag, $178, J.Crew, 800-562-0258

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