2014 was the year of the man purse

Maybe Michael Kors KORS, -3.63% which offered a weak outlook in its earnings report Thursday, should expend more of its efforts on the man purse. After all, murse-mania hit a new high in 2014—and experts say the man purse will continue its proliferation in the coming years. murse-mania hit a new high in 2014—and experts say the man purse will continue its proliferation in the coming years.

According to data released this week by research firm The NPD Group, even as sales of women’s bags fell, sales of men’s bags jumped 35% in 2014 (and unit sales were up 17%), totaling $ 2.3 billion and making up nearly a quarter of the total industry results. “Last year’s double-digit unit and dollar sales increases clearly make the men’s segment the one to watch in 2015,” the NPD report reveals. “Men are purchasing more bags than ever before, and wearing bags of all types.”

And it isn’t just duffel bags the fellas are buying. Men’s handbags were the fastest-growing segment within the men’s bag industry, with unit sales jumping 47% in 2014 (compared with a 5% decline for women’s handbags) to 4 million total units and dollar sales of $ 283 million, almost triple what they were in 2013. What’s more, men’s tote bag unit sales jumped 11% over that period, to 3.9 million units in 2014 and dollar sales of $ 90 million, almost double what they were in 2013 (while women’s tote bag unit sales fell 15%).

A number of things are driving the man-purse trend. One is the “casualization” of American fashion, as more Americans wear casual clothes like sweatpants (which often don’t have pockets) as everyday wear, says Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst of The NPD Group. And as workplaces have gotten more casual (but not completely casual) the traditional options for the man bag (briefcase or backpack) often come across as overly formal or overly casual, notes Austin-based fashion blogger Bri Thomas.

Another reason the man-purse is a big trend can be found in our newfound love of active wear (which also tends not to have pockets) as everyday wear, Cohen says. “We have become a nation of athletes without doing athletics,” Cohen explains. Furthermore, a slimmer cut for pants, jackets and shirts is now on-trend for men—which means men may struggle to fit a wallet, phone and keys in their pockets, says Leesa Evans, a Los Angeles-based stylist and costume designer.

Some men, of course, don’t see the point of carrying a man purse—especially if they’re the minimalist type who carry just a wallet and phone. And as fashion designer Donny Joseph points out, rightfully so: “Keys, wallet and phone typically come to mind as the essentials that a man needs to have on him…most can be carried in one’s front or back pocket.” (That is, assuming your on-trend, slim-fitting pants aren’t preventing that.)

Others don’t feel that handbags are a good look for men. “They don’t want to seem too girly,” says Thomas—not that this is a bad thing, just not the look some men are going for.

Still, Thomas defends the male handbag for those who have a lot to carry (note to the fellas: us ladies are sick of shoving your water bottles and magazines in our already overstuffed purses). They’re “a great option for someone who finds a backpack too casual and a briefcase too stuffy,” Thomas says. So if you’re tempted by the man purse (look at all the stuff you can now carry with you!), but still unsure how to rock one without looking like a lady (unless you want to look like one, of course), here are a few tips.

Go neutral

“Look for classic, deep shades like navy, forest green, deep cranberry and of course black or brown,” recommends Diana Melencio, the co-founder of stylist matching firm OkMyOutfit. “Keep embellishments and hardware minimal to avoid looking overly trendy or like your bag is borrowed from the ladies.” Joseph says that men should avoid overly branded, printed or decorated bags and pick “manly” fabrics like canvas, nylon or leather; Evans suggested rustic, textured leather and gray, wool flannel in particular.

Try a messenger bag

For fellas just dipping their toes into the man-purse world, a messenger bag (rather than a handbag or tote bag) is a good starting point, says Thomas—as these bags tend to be relatively neutral and most closely resemble a laptop bag, which many men are already used to lugging around. Melencio says that you should “look for styles that have both a short and long strap (the long strap alone can read overly feminine).” Kenneth Cole and Cole Haan are among the stores that make nice, neutral leather messenger bags that can replace a more traditional briefcase. Added bonus: The messenger bag can be slung cross-body so you keep your hands free.

Pick the right size

“Men’s bags should be proportionate,” says Joseph. “A taller man should not be carrying a smaller bag, and a shorter guy shouldn’t have a larger tote.” Evans says that when figuring out the size you need, something that can fit your iPad or laptop or larger is appropriate for most men; but you should also consider how tall or wide you are. If you aren’t sure on the correct sizing for your man purse, ask the salesperson to help, explaining that you want something that looks appropriate for your height and weight.

Be confident—and don’t call your bag a “man purse”

Still nervous about wearing a man purse? Evans says that “confidence really sells basically anything” (yes, even the murse) and notes that men often prefer calling their male handbag a “satchel” rather than something like a “man purse” or “murse.”

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