Style rules are generally pointless pronouncements designed to shame those who have transgressed and celebrate the people who write and publish them.
Take rucksacks, for instance. For some, the rucksack is an abomination. Imagine taking the time to find a suit whose sleeves finish just at the bone of your wrist, trousers skimming the top of your shoes in a precise and considered fashion (two more rules, there), only to sling a backpack over the top of it.
In many ways, the people angered by this are right. Like pronouncing it expresso, or going for lemon and herb at Nando’s, wearing a rucksack with a suit is just… wrong.
Why? Well, one is smart and the other is casual. One is designed to create a flattering line between waist and shoulder that balances the width of both, making you look simultaneously slim and broad. The other is a nylon bag for keeping your lunch and smelly gym kit in. As such, the two shouldn’t be seen together.
Holly Macnaghten, a menswear stylist responsible for ensuring that actors, musicians and models always look their best, agrees.
“While I don’t have an issue with an elegant leather rucksack per se, I take objection to the scratchy, canvas roll down ones. They remind me of school. And why would a grown man want to look like a child again?”
What then is the alternative? A bag that can be carried in your hand? A tote bag?
This is where, for many, the argument falls down. If style is about anything, it’s about being effortless. Carrying everything you need for the day in a bag that you hold in your hands is anything but. While we’ll concede that rucksacks don’t look great with a suit, that doesn’t mean tote bags are necessarily the solution.
A good rucksack has structure, support, padding and perhaps best of all: handy pockets. Sexy? Maybe not, but neither is scoliosis.
Macnaghten is having none of it. “I don’t buy this whole ‘it’s practical’ argument. Grown men should be able to edit down what they need that day to something smaller than a rucksack.”
Which rather leaves us in a quandry, style wise. Is it better to leave your gym kit at home on days when you wish to look smart? We’re back to square one. Where bags are concerned, you can’t win. So, we’ll suggest a compromise: a selection of the aforementioned ‘elegant rucksacks’ that should not, if at all possible, be used when wearing a suit.
Whether they carry weight with Macnaghten is another question.
The best rusksacks for men
The North Face
Flying in the face of the advice not to get a roll-top backpack, this courier inspired example from the North Face is notable because of its size, waterproof material and its capacity. It’s all black as well, which makes it look sleek and subtle rather than clumpy and childish.
We like this River Island backpack because it doubles as two bags in one. Put it on your back and it’s a rucksack, or use the enlarged handle and carry it like a tote bag. Ideal for switching between the two at a moment’s notice, it’s also mercifully subtle in colour and styling so it looks far more expensive than it actually is.
Despite the foliage print camouflage canvas, we defy you to look at this backpack from Dunhill and think ‘school child’. Instead, the judicious use of leather — at the base, handle and on the straps — gives it a smart finish. And you’d hope so, too, because this is not what you’d call ‘cheap’ either.
Sandqvist’s mix of canvas and leather in navy blue and black makes this satchel-style backpack smart, rather than juvenile. With enough space to fit most 15″ laptops, it will pass the stoarge test too. And, as the backpack wears in, it will take on a weathered look. It’s not waterproof, though so don’t expect to use it for cycling in the rain.