Are you a pocket person?
Truth be told, I only prefer pockets in one place – my bag! So, while I like to stay organized, the pockets on my person hardly receive any use (unless it’s on some form of outerwear, like jackets or coats). Instead, what I prefer is hauling large, mostly-empty bags, which beautifully show the texture of the smooshy leather, and in turn, render my pockets mostly useless. I realize that toting a massive, flailing handbag is neither really streamlined nor, if we’re being sincere, a super put-together look.
Streamlined, refined, and minimal are what I’m craving these days, so you can probably see my dilemma here. At my little brother’s school pickup the other day, I realized how the other parents had devised a chic workaround to terrible little pocket-sized bulges – in the form of a pocket-sized bag! More specifically, a purse dedicated exclusively to your phone: a phone pouch.
Of course, phone bags are not a new invention – they’ve been big since the early 90s, when you could use cellphones and bricks interchangeably, our pockets grossly inadequate for these bulky gadgets. So, phone purses are not without their fair share of historical heft either. Now that all things from the 90s have returned, it’s likely that you, like me, have been seeing a steady influx of these bite-sized handbags in your vicinity.
Wondering whether to splurge on one? Let me lead the way for you.
The Origins of the Phone Pouch
Is it an SLG? Is it a purse? Is it a wallet-on-chain?
The phone pouch occupies a grey area of sorts regarding its silhouette, encompassing a whole spectrum of designs. Those on the roomier side err towards looking like a shrunken-down version of a full-sized purse – complete with handles, flaps, and even feet – while some resemble large wallets with a built-in phone pocket.
Despite being available in many designs today, the phone bag traces its roots to the world’s first cell phones. Having commercialized the mobile device in 1983, Motorola devised a bag phone in 1988, consisting of a sizeable handset connected to a separate transceiver and powered by a battery pack, all packed neatly into a portable nylon pouch, paving the way for the modern phone-pouch.
By the late 90s and early 2000s, however, cell phones had undergone massive structural changes, becoming smaller, slimmer, and foldable. And although much more pocket-friendly now, these were also prone to get lost inside your handbag. More specifically, your peak Y2K-era maxi handbag. So, the phone that started ringing from these gigantic carryalls’ dark depths remained more elusive than ever.
Then, a separate, hands-free accessory was devised for the exclusive disposal of our phones, and the phone purse as we know it came to be. Seen out and about among the most utilitarian of consumers, some carried it crossbody alongside an existing purse. Other, more minimal fashionistas eschewed the handbag altogether in favor of the mini style.
Soon, however, they came to be associated with terms like practicality and sensibility. We know how fashion often tends to counter these values (even more so during the early aughts). As a result, the now-ubiquitous phone pouch was relegated to a position of apparent uncoolness, not entirely unlike the fanny pack.
But as it turns out, it takes a pandemic to bring back the function in fashion.
Why They’ve Circled Back to Popularity
When the pandemic struck, there was a complete shift in our long-standing handbag habits. In went the giant work totes and the fancy mini evening purses. Out came, well, nothing, really. On the off-chance that one had to venture beyond their homestead, they simply went with their phone and wallet, receiving intensive sanitizer rub-downs upon returning, just like the groceries and toilet papers did.
And what did the forward-thinking fashionistas turn to for the exclusive transportation of their phones and cash? You guessed it right – the phone pouch! Available in a wide variety of sanitizer-friendly fabrics and in sporty colorways, the phone bags from Nike, Lululemon, and even Amazon became bestsellers at the time, letting users go hands-free without having to put their dear handbags at risk.
Surprisingly enough, once the phone purse began to draw converts at a renewed pace, their popularity continued after the COVID restrictions eased. After all, what better stylish accessory to tote to concerts, dinner outings, and tours than the convenient phone bag? This time, however, designer options were on the rise, and brands high and low, from Chanel, Valentino, and Loewe, were all quick to cash in on the trend. Even Oprah (yes, THE Oprah) swore allegiance to JW Pei’s Aylin Canvas cellphone bag!
Are They Really Worth it?
The phone pouch melds two of our everyday necessities into one: a phone case/holder and a wallet, and as such, its appeal is obvious. While it still stays true to the mini-purse trend, it’s not so dizzyingly tiny that it defeats the purpose of having a bag in the first place. Plus, since we have successfully navigated through the troubled times of the micro-bag era, we’re less likely to have much if any, difficulty in adapting to the trend.
Investing in a phone pouch makes the most sense in terms of functionality. Regardless of your individual handbag preferences, we all likely find ourselves in situations where a full-sized purse, or even a medium one, feels too large, and a mini-bag, or one we reserved for going-out purposes, feels a tad too fancy.
Furthermore, as cashless payments gain popularity, and you can even open cars and house doors with an app nowadays, the phone may end up as the only thing you have to carry. And given my (and yours, I assume) natural distaste for using pockets, a phone bag is ideal for anyone, as Oprah describes, whose cell phone is always attached to their hip.”
While I used to have an aversion to tech accessories, recent variations from all different brands have me taking a second look at the style. And first-time users have attested that the accessories are “life-changing,” so maybe there’s some truth to it. And the best part is, they’re usually on the (relatively) more accessible side of a designer’s lineup (some retailing for as low as under $500). Unless, of course, you’re looking at Chanel. Then be prepared to shell out at least $2K.
My point is, despite the many foibles and controversies of the mini-purse, the phone pouch is a specific subset that we can actually get around. Plus, they’re trendy and, most importantly, convenient to use.
What’s there to not like?