Conspicuously Missing Ivy (or things that would have been Ivy)

The J. Peterman Counterfeit Mailbag.


I went through Take Ivy a few times yesterday, first for reference and subsequently to make sure I was right.  I counted zero bags, for men anyway.  Stacks of books for sure, bike baskets, but no bags.  This of course does not rule out bags being Ivy, they are, but it does put forward two important arguments.

Exhibit A:  Because a thing is not in Take Ivy does not mean it is not Ivy.  Bags aren’t.  If you find a picture of a bag in Take Ivy that I have overlooked please do let me know but I can tell you, if you find one or two, there are only one or two.  I’ve been messing with the idea of a series about things that would have been Ivy had they been invented (or more prominent) in the heyday, travel mugs for example, beer cozies, etc.

Exhibit B:  There is a conundrum not evolving Ivy Style, and it starts with the fact that we are dressing like college kids even though we are not college kids.  There’s that saying:  Prep is what you wore to high school, Ivy is what you wore to college, and Trad is what you wear to work.  That’s a misclassification to be sure, but whatever.  The point is that, assuming you graduate or even if you didn’t go, at some point you moved on to a full time job and simultaneously love the classics and need a bag because your pockets can’t hold a laptop.

In grad school, I carried a briefcase.  This was the era of Arnie from LA Law and his aluminum briefcase, thankfully I was going to school up town and avoided this mishap however:

The Arnie, which worked back then because it made a nice sound hitting the back seat of your Porsche convertible. Now, not so much. Actually, even then, not so much.

There were advantages to the briefcase.  It locked, which was cool.  That sound, when you move the slide and the latch pops up.  Cocked and loaded, that sound said.  They all smelled good, they had that silicone bag in them even then which I still do not understand.  And the file sleeves.  Those were great except for the fact that anything smaller than a regular piece of paper slid down and you forgot you had it.  This was late 80’s early 90’s, and paper was the only trail you could leave back then.  Best to know where everything was.

Most of us have moved on, but I miss that latch sound.  While I missed that mistake though, I did not miss this mistake:

This is a Timbuk2 messenger bag.  Great company, and they have a lot of my money.  You cannot beat them for functionality.  I need pockets for things as nothing is more annoying than fumbling around in the bottom of a mailbag for your fountain pen only to accidentally uncap it and then get distracted and come back a few minutes later to find the bottom of your J. Peterman Counterfeit Mailbag was now tattooed.  As was everything inside it.  The Timbuk2 messenger bag solved that for me, depending on the model there are pockets and straps everywhere.   Most of them, and I have owned most of them, have a waist strap too, a seat belt that I have never used.  Have you?

Why did I stop using the Timbuk2 Messenger bags? Because at some point a man grows up and the sound of Velcro triggers.


Totes.  I SO WANT to carry a tote in the summer.  I have 6 of them, easy.  When I took the train into town every day, there was a guy at the station who carried a tote and put his NY Times (paper) in it – that was so Old School, I loved that.  So I tried.  First, you cannot put a tote on your shoulder for any length of time without feeling like you are at a bazaar.  Second, that fountain pen thing?  Times 300.   Everything flops around, you cannot find anything, and while carrying a tote is cool fishing in one is certainly not.

This is a tote. It is really just a very very large pocket. Which is great if you carry one thing, like in your pocket. It is horrible if you carry a few things, like in your pocket. No one wants to be seem fumbling through their pocket, that is just bad optics. Same for the tote. Sorry.


So we have crossed out the tote, the Velcro anything, and the hard shell briefcase (There are those of you who can still pull off the hard shell briefcase.  Announce yourselves.  I want to be friends.) Tomorrow we can cover what works, and if you leave me a note in the comments I will work in what works for you, too.

Hint:  The J Peterman Counterfeit Mailbag does not work.  And it still makes sense to carry.  My sister went so far as to get me a bag organizer that pilots use, and it still doesn’t work.  And it still makes sense to carry.  It is counterfeit, says so right in the name, and it still makes sense.  Also, there are messenger bags that do work, of course, we will show some of those.  Lastly, and I know I am going to eat it for this, backpacks work.  Why?  First, Ivy pedigree.  Backpacks are academia.  Second, posture.  Third, I need my hands free for taking off and putting on glasses all day long.

Thanks for all the kind notes about the contest.




26 Comments on "Conspicuously Missing Ivy (or things that would have been Ivy)"

  1. When my uncle attended college in the 50s, bookstraps were the way college men (no coeds then) carried their textbooks, writing instruments, and school supplies.

    Students were expected to wear a jacket and tie and smoking was allowed during class.

    Hi Mitchell, do you carry a bag? – JB

  2. Hi John.

    No, I don’t carry a bag right now, but I like the Filson waxed cotton briefcase that Brooks Brothers used to sell. It’s rugged, manly, classic, and weatherproof. It’s more New England than New England.

  3. Trevor Jones | November 9, 2021 at 10:54 am |

    I am a man of many bags for many uses!
    At work (I’m a teacher), I carry an old Coach “metropolitan” leather bag (made in USA) that is somewhere between a messenger bag and briefcase. It was my dad’s (a present from my mom) in the 90’s, but he has been working from home for 15 years, so it was just collecting dust. That’s where I came in. Some teachers use backpacks or more modern looking messenger bags, but I can’t do that because I’ll blend in even more with the students! Plus, there’s something a little off to me about wearing a backpack with a tweed jacket. Look, they’re selling a ‘restored’ vintage version of my bag on the Coach site (they no longer make this model) for $800!
    I also am partial to the LL Bean “boat n’ tote” as a gym bag/book bag/carry-all. It’s kind of the perfect bag in a pinch for any occasion. However, many trad guys have an aversion to sport-specific bags and opt to place their equipment/clothes in tote bags. This is an area, for me, where totes are no good. As a tennis coach and competitive player, it seems silly to me to use something that is inferior when Wilson or Babolat 6-12 racquet bag can hold your racquets, shoes, clothes, towel, keep your water cool, etc. Dressing Ivy/trad is great, but when you’re walking onto the court, the aesthetic of your bag should be your last concern; you want something that can do the job.
    So, in short, I think bags should be practical in multiple senses of the word: they match your needs and your vibe. If you’re wearing a three piece and are preparing to lecture on John Williams’ “Stoner”, maybe a backpack is not the best bet. Try a briefcase, a portfolio. If you’re tying up the laces to hike Mount Katahdin or explore the streets of Vienna, a backpack is the perfect option.
    Just my two cents!

    OMG!!! I have that Coach bag. I bought it last year from a lady on FB Marketplace for … $25. – JB

  4. Trevor, thanks for the link to the Metropolitan bag.

    The New York Times has an article on man bags:

  5. Michael Brady | November 9, 2021 at 11:30 am |

    Trafalgar (Ghurka)bags were the bag of choice in the 80’s; and they still make a great range of them. Somewhere along the line nice bags have become quite pricey. My daughter, who is something of a shopping guru, has found some good emerging leather goods makers. I have seen some nice back packs from them that could double as business bags and not cost a fortune.

    As the recipient of a gifted Swaine, Adeney, Brigg briefcase; the top of the mountain for traditional business cases; I had to look no further. Now retired, I have passed it on to a new user.

  6. The bag post has arrived! The Peterman Counterfeit Mailbag has been one of those items I’ve wanted for years, but not wanted enough to actually buy. Same with the Filson cotton briefcase that Mitchell mentions. While they’re no longer available at Brooks, Filson still makes and sells a lot of them. In terms of perceived durability and something approaching a classic utilitarian style, those strike me as pretty ivy. Trevor Jones’s Coach bag is perfection.
    Carrying around one of L. L. Bean’s very ivy-ish (or at least very preppy) boat-and-totes always seems nice until you’re actually carrying it around and can’t find a comfortable way to sling it over your shoulder. I agree it’s best suited to the bazaar or farmer’s market.
    As for me, I’ll agree with Trevor that whatever the bag is, it should suit its purpose. I have a canvas briefcase that I sometimes carry around. It’s from a local maker here in Portland called Beckel Canvas. They specialize in canvas tents and luggage, and their workshop isn’t far from me. It’s not as refined as the Filson version, but it comes at a small fraction of the price and it suits my needs well when those needs involve carrying around my laptop and some larger files or folders. Often, I only need to carry smaller books and notebooks, and for that I use a WWI-era British gas mask bag with a shoulder strap. Yes, it’s a man purse, but it’s Indiana Jones’s man purse. (Laugh all you want — I’ll laugh with you, but nothing will convince me it isn’t great.)

    (1) NO ONE laughs at Indy Gear. I have the original Wested jacket – before they turned into a costume shop, back when Wested made real jackets. (2) That’s a cool bag you linked to though. I really like that. – JB

  7. Plus-one for the Filson.

    It’s outside the aesthetics of this community, but while I was working in the M&A industry last decade, soft-sided, blastic nylon Tumis seem this era’s leather briefcase.

    You’re so right, but I just can’t do it. – JB

  8. Very interesting, @Trevor Jones. I am a big boat & tote fan, often using it to carry my tennis gear in the odd chance I play away from my home club. As a former collegiate and retired USTA (5.0) player I always chuckled when I saw the 12 racquet bags come out.

    Love the metropolitan bag though.

  9. Trevor Jones | November 9, 2021 at 1:30 pm |

    @Nevada (who, by the way, has the much cooler “Jones” name!!), I kind of stumbled onto the “Metropolitan” as I just lifted it out of our basement because it filled a need, but I agree that it goes with the Ivy look very well. $800 is robbery, though, for a vintage one; if you’re going to spend that, buy something from Clegg (MA) or Lotuff (RI). Both exceptional craftsmanship, made in New England, and both have a strong commitment to their employees and the environment. That’s all before saying their bags are beautiful and durable. If it’s the “Metropolitan” specifically you long for, look up “Coach Metropolitan Brief” on Google and, under the shopping tab, there should be a handful of options between $100-300 (depending on condition). I agree, it is very fetching. I think in the coming year I’ll have the leather properly refurbished.

    @Rake, as I say, I like the boat ‘n tote in general; but when I need a tennis bag, I need a tennis bag. Of course, as my age increases, time spent playing decreases and time spent coaching increases, those opportunities are fewer and far between. If I’m just hitting for an hour with a friend, I’ll bring a couple of sticks and my shoes — no bag at all of any sort. But definitely in my college days the proper tennis bag was crucial for me.

    I had no idea there were so many tennis players in here. I have a tennis story that is hilarious (I wanted to be a teaching pro at one point but a 23 year old peak-form-and-condition John Burton got beat so badly by a very overweight 60 year old named Murray in Boca Raton that he quit the game. This guy hit such evil garbage, nothing went where it was supposed to. – JB

  10. My Zero Halliburton Slimline started service before laptops were commonplace and it has the scars and dents to prove it. It makes a wonderful laptop carrier now. I suppose you have to expect some ribbing to carry one but I don’t mind. In fact, I play along. “I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murry, and I’m on a mission of mercy.”

    It also goes very well with my Porsche Design P3120 aluminum mechanical pencil and pen set. Great for handing to clients to sign on the line which is dotted.


    Ok, that is beautiful. – JB

  11. Midwest Slim | November 9, 2021 at 2:46 pm |

    If you can’t say something nice…

    🙂 This will come as a shock, but George is not really George’s first name. He migrated here from the FB site. – JB

  12. Charlottesville | November 9, 2021 at 2:56 pm |

    I have an old Peal & Co. leather briefcase from Brooks that I bought sometime in the late 80s when lawyers still regularly carried them, but I almost never use it anymore. I also have my father’s similar case, which probably dates to the 1950s, but it is a bit delicate at this point for regular use. I’m afraid that on the rare occasions when I really need a bag, I rely on the standard zippered black nylon laptop case, which I toted to the office today. It holds the laptop, a few odds and ends and whatever papers I may require. Serviceable, but no points at all for style, Ivy or otherwise.

    So here though – see, I think that IS Ivy. Because it is utilitarian, has authenticity, and you actually use it. I mean, not as Ivy as others, but definitely Ivy. – JB

  13. Thomas M. Conroy | November 9, 2021 at 3:33 pm |

    No bags on campus in the 1970s. I used to use a briefcase when I worked boi no one including lawyers does that now.
    It’s all bags.

  14. I carry a Wm. J. Mills briefcase. Made in USA.

    I just looked them up – wow, those are nice! – JB

  15. I’ve been using a Brady fishing bag for years and it’s worn in nicely and may fit the bill for some folks.

    The two pockets in front are enough organization to separate small stuff from big stuff and it has enough room to hold a tablet/books/lunch/whatnot.

    It’s also big enough to double as a camera bag. Using a padded divider, I can comfortably carry a camera and a couple lenses. As an added perk, it’s totally waterproof. It’s kept my camera dry through several downpours.

    Do you have a link? I have been trying to find a fishing bag that I could use as a regular bag for forever. – JB

  16. I don’t think it’s that complicated. Guys of college age and younger just did not carry bags or briefcases in those days. If you carried a messenger bag you might just as well have engraved “wanker” into the side of it. It had nothing to do with being Ivy or not.

    Your take on the tote is interesting too. Your rationale for its not being “Ivy” is that you don’t personally find it convenient. And that it didn’t appear in a Japanese picture book from 1965. If you go and stand outside the NYYC or the Union Club for an hour you might change your mind.

    I, um, didn’t say it wasn’t Ivy. And I said I would love to carry one. Um… you read, right? – JB

  17. NaturalShoulder | November 9, 2021 at 10:10 pm |

    @Trevor Jones – I second the recommendation for Lotuff. I have a briefcase I purchase close to 9 years ago that is now just getting that well used look after daily use to and from the office. I have subsequently purchased several other items for Lotuff and cannot say enough good things about the products. They are certainly pricey but I am happy to pay for great quality which will last, especially when it is made in the US.

  18. There was a San Francisco/Berkeley-based bagmaker in the late 2000’s, Mulholland Brothers, who made the first “real bag” I coveted and then acquired. They got their start making sporting bags, and so their “Angler” bag retained a bit of a sporty feel while handling a laptop and a few files, a sunglasses case, and some miscellanea really well. The leather was a soft tan that looked better beaten up a little. Unfortunately, the Brothers sold to private equity and the line was put out of business.

  19. At Cornell during the Ivy heyday many of us carried books in a
    simple cloth drawstring bag, like a miniature laundry bag. It was called
    book bag and sold at the campus store among other places es.

  20. @Roger Sack:
    At Princeton, too. They were green, as far as I remember, and we slung them over our shoulder.

  21. Slung over a single shoulder, they were. Not worn like a backpack.
    Somewhat like this:

  22. We didn’t need book bags. Nearly everyone lived on or adjacent to campus and simply carried a notebook and a book or two to each class. Between classes, there was time to go back to the dorm room or fraternity house and pick up what you needed to bring to the next class. I landed on a Little Ivy campus in New England less than 20 years after Take Ivy was published, and on page after page you can see the 1960s students carrying their books and notebooks the same way we did in the 1980s. There were no laptops in those days.

  23. Old Bostonian | November 10, 2021 at 3:31 am |

    Today, they don’t even carry books. Everything they read is either on-line or in the form of photocopies.

  24. Backpacks are bad luck on boats. Just something to consider. Perhaps a pen case in your tote bag?

  25. You might want to peruse the websites for Chapman and Billingham, as well as Brady.

  26. Re: JR’s post
    The California-based bag maker that you referenced is “J. Holland”, not Mulholland; and yes, they make beautiful bags and soft luggage. I have seen them mentioned in connection with a factory store, and they have a web page.

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