Crossbody comfort

She's clutching her toddler's hand with phone pressed to her ear or finger-scrolling through e-mail while carrying too many packages. Now, she doesn't have to worry about carrying her fab, fashionable handbag, too.

The crossbody bag, sporting a long strap and worn across the body, is suddenly everywhere. The bags are practical, stylish and with offerings at every price from two digits to four, highly accessible.

"The business is definitely on fire right now," says Brooke Scott, fashion director of handbags and accessories at Bloomingdale's.

"Everybody needs to be hands-free," she says. "We're all girls on the go, trying to juggle a lot of different things. This allows you to be a little bit more liberated."

The crossbody or messenger bag has come back into fashion in the past few years amid the growing popularity of the hard-to-put-down smartphone. The bags are popular, even outselling traditional handbags last year, according to market research firm The NPD Group.


"The idea of not having to carry an old-fashioned ladylike handbag in your hand by the handles is really appealing," says Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure. "People want more function in their fashion and not just frivolity. They want fashion to perform a basic service."

That service allows a woman to navigate congested sidewalks or enjoy a summer vacation with two hands at the ready, her most important possessions and gadgets close by her side — no more worries about dropping a beautiful bag in a rain puddle or having her purse snatched by a thief.

"It came from a place of function," says Scott, noting today's obsession with the BlackBerry and iPhone. "What has happened is it's now expected that your handbag will come with that property."

The style is derived from the bags bike messengers wore and the utilitarian fashions of the late 1970s and early 1980s, explains Ellen Goldstein-Lynch, chairwoman of the accessories design department at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. They have popped up sporadically since then, made mostly by low- to moderate-level companies, she says.

Now, though, they are also offered by high-end designers like Ferragamo and Hermes. "It's the first time it's been brought back with a lot of style," Goldstein-Lynch says.

A mention of the style may conjure images the crossbody bags by LeSportsac, which introduced them in 1982 and still sells them today. Known for its lightweight nylon bags with whimsical prints, the company's Kasey — a rectangular crossbody bag with the iconic three zippered pockets — is a top-seller worldwide, says D'Arcy Jensen, the company's chief creative director.

While its north-south rectangular shape is popular among other designers and manufacturers, the crop of today's crossbody bags has grown to include satchels, drawstring bags and hobos. They are sized from large down to mini and are crafted in soft, smooth leather along with metallic and patent leather dressy enough for a night out. There's also casual canvas.

Some are fashionably dressed up with studs and hardware, while others are more simple and refined, better able to withstand fads. Wells favors the structured, non-embellished versions in neutrals. "They have a very classic look to them because they're so low key," she says. "This is not the bag you're trying to sell on eBay right away."


The bags can be worn several ways: Some can be carried by the handles or worn on the shoulder, others make the leap from day to evening, or with the strap detached, some can be used as an organizer for essentials to be dropped into a larger bag. They can also be worn hanging low from the shoulder.

"That's the beauty of the crossbody strap. It gives the wearer a lot of options," says Bloomingdale's Scott. "There's inherent value to buying a bag that takes you multiple places."

Wearing a bag across the body can transcend age, as Jensen points out that her 75-year-old mother in Omaha, Neb., wears the LeSportsac Kasey, as does her 21-year-old niece, a college student in Seattle.

"My mom, she feels safe with the bag across her body. My niece thinks it's cool looking," says Jensen, adding that it's those different kinds of uses that make the style important as a fashion and a lifestyle trend.

Sales of women's crossbody bags rose an estimated 7 percent across the country for the year ending in February, while purchases of traditional handbags rose 1 percent, according to NPD.

"Women want to invest in accessories, not just collect handbags these days," says Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry analyst.

Fashion watchers expect the style to have staying power.

"Without a doubt they are going to gain popularity," Allure's Wells says. "This is just the beginning of the trend."

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