Despite being the butt of many jokes, the fanny pack has been around for thousands of years and will likely be around for a thousand more.
Back in 1954, Sports Illustrated ran a print advertisement for a leather pouch that was touted as an ideal accessory for cross-country skiers who needed to hold their lunches and their ski wax. Hikers, equestrians and bicyclists could all benefit from this waist-mounted bag, which was like a backpack situated on their hips.
The “fanny pack” sold for about $10.00 in the 1950’s (roughly the equivalent of about $90.00 in today’s world). For the next several decades, it remained popular with the recreational enthusiasts who travelled by bike, on foot or across trails where their hands could be kept free and a large piece of travel luggage was unnecessary. From there, it morphed into a fashion statement and was marketed by Nike and Gucci for decorative and utilitarian purposes in the 1980’s and 1990’s, before ultimately becoming an ironic hipster joke. Even the name Fanny Pack makes me giggle. However, the concept of carrying goods conveniently on your hips was never meant to be a joking matter.
Mankind has looked to belt-mounted storage solutions for centuries. Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300 year old mummy that was found preserved in a glacier in 1991, had a leather satchel that held a sharpened piece of bone and flint-stone tools. Subsequent civilizations adopted the premise, with Victorian and Edwardian women toting chatelaine purses made of silk or velvet.
The 20th-century obsession with the fanny packs began on a ski slopes in Europe in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Skiers travelling away from the base lodge who wanted to keep certain items – food, money, a map, emergency flares and occasionally alcohol – within arms reach wore then proudly. Photographers also found them useful when hiking or travelling outdoors and climbing through obstacles, as they reduced the risk of an expensive camera or lens being dropped.
Their migration into fashion and the general public happened in the 1980’s, due to the rise of athleisure. This trend started to see apparel and accessories typically relegated to sports or exercise – think leggings, scrunchies, track suits, biker shorts – entering our day to day use. With them came the fanny pack, a useful depository for your keys, wallet, drinks and anything else. They were especially popular with tourists, who could stash their passport, camera, money and maps without the burned of carrying luggage around.
In the late 1980’s, fashion started to take notice. High-end labels like Chanel started to produce premium fanny packs, often with the more dignified name if a belt bag. Sporting a fanny pack or a belt bag was considered cool, as evidenced by their presence in pop-culture. I mean – even The Fresh Prince himself wore one! And so did the boys from New Kids on the Block. Nothing, it seemed could dissuade people from feeling pragmatic and hip by sporting an oversized pocket on their waist.
Like most trends, overexposure proved fatal. Fanny packs were everywhere, given out by marketing departments of major brands like Miller Beer and at sports arenas and stadiums. Plastered with corporate logos, they became too crassly commercial for style purposes and too pervasive. By the end of the 1990’s, wearing a fanny pack was no longer cool. It was an act that invited mockery and was considered tacky.
The pack, of course, has retained its appeal among outdoor enthusiasts, and lately has been experiencing a resurgence in style circles, with designer labels like Louis Vuitton and Valentino offering high-end pouches. Many are now being modified or worn across the torso like a bandolier, an adaptation prized by skateboarders who want something to hold their goods without hindering movement.
In 2018, fanny packs were credited with a surge in overall accessories sales, posting double-digit gains in merchandise. The fanny pack may have had its day as an accessory of mass appeal, but it’s not likely to completely disappear anytime soon.
What are your thoughts on the fanny pack comeback? Personally, I think I’ll leave it back in the 1990’s but I know a lot of you would disagree.
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