What is a Hobo Bag? The All-in-one Guide
We've talked tote bags, crossbodies and backpacks - we love them all. Another strong contender that defined an entire era of style is the hobo bag. Hobo Bags have been a fashion accessory that elevated everything that was #bohochic back in the 2000s. As a bag, you can differentiate it from the other styles by its uniquely large crescent shape, and a lack of body (which in this case is beneficial) that allows it to slouch and collapse on itself when not held.
All you need to know about the Olsen Twins' favourite accessory - we've got your back.
What is a Hobo Bag
To answer it simply: The hobo handbag is a style of handbag or purse that is typically large and designed to be worn with large straps over the shoulder. It is characterized by its crescent shape, a slouchy posture (unlike the satchel), a long strap and a zip top closure (unlike the tote).
The term Hobo comes from the American subculture around the end of the 19th century which saw a large number of migrant workers moving around the country. The term 'Hobo' was used to describe migrant workers in America, and their characteristic single bag/pouch went on to inspire this accessory. Later on, this was satirised in the form of cartoons and drawings of hobos with a bindle on a stick. The bindle represented all of their belongings in a sack tied at the end of the stick - morose and satirised for their unhoused state.
Later in the first half of the twentieth century, the improved hobo bag hit the market as a fashion item and was initially sold only for 35 cents in 1936. The first hobo bag was called Gilda.
Movements that defined a Trend
- The Hippie Movement: The first mainstream movement to attach itself to this style were the hippies of the 1960s. The Hobo canvas hobo bags, often festooned with tassels and other marks of the era, became a statement of the flower children and their lifestyle. This can be attributed to the resistance the disillusioned generation of post war babies felt about the distaste of the older generations towards certain lifestyles.
- The Boho Chic: The modern hobo bag had a revival in the late 90s and the early 00s with boho influences hitting the high shelves of couture. This was associated mainly with Sienna Miller, Kate Moss in the UK and the Olsen twins in the US. This revivalist movement led to an increased production of these bags and their adaptation by several designer brands.
- Luxe Grunge: The meeting point of luxury, grunge and the bohemian aesthetic. The luxe grunge (also sometimes referred to as luxe bohemian) originated in the rock scene in Seattle in the 1990s. The leather hobo was a defining aspect of the movement.
What are the different types of Hobo Bags?
The slouchy silhouette of a hobo bag lends itself to a vast versatility that can be worn year round and paired with many creative outfits. They come in different sizes and makes, but the essential hobo bag is by definition a large shoulder bag that is famously oversized (and sometimes petite too, in taste) and hold lot of stuff. Hobo bags are made of a few different materials that define their utility and wear respectively. The following are a few types of bags that make the cut to our list (curated like fine wine).
Leather Hobo Bags
Much like leather handbags, they are durable and perfect for everyday use with a dab touch of formal wear added to it. Black or brown, the neutral color palette preferred by the more elegant crowd will add a certain pizzazz to your daily wardrobe. They are soft leather and perfectly compact for storage, and won't have the same issues withholding shape as the other bag siblings (looking at you satchel) - for it is meant to have no shape. A plus? Detachable straps are often the custom. Check out the Lodis 1965 collection of leather hobos.
Canvas or Cloth Hobo Bags
The preferred material for the aficionados of soft fabric, canvas or cloth hobos can be a great compliment to a coffee date or a brunch outing (and even a bookshop date). Not unlike the canvas tote, the canvas hobo accomplishes what the other material counterparts fail at - they are just way easier to clean.
Small Hobo Bags
Even though in essence, hobos are meant to be large - smaller ones have also debuted in the market and received a good response. They rethink the utility while reinventing the style that comes with the accessory.
Should You Invest in a Hobo Bag?
Great question. Hobo bags are worth investing in for a number of reasons. They are perfect if you are a bag packing goblin who's the nightmare of Marie Kondo (the organisation guru). Sometimes, more is just more and for your extra clothes, toiletry and other uses of its famous large size - the hobo might just be the bag for you.
Designers like the slouchy silhouette of the bag and the flat bottom. They are easily identified (hey, community) and are easy to unfasten as well. It is also a good addition if you are travelling light.
A bit of Social Commentary
The term 'hobo bag' has come under flak lately. We are living in a world of cancel culture, and an age where etymology is realised and reflected upon maybe a bit too late. The origin of the word hobo and the satirization of migrant workers carrying their belongings in decrepit pouches has not been taken well by the newer generation - especially the hyperaware Gen Z.
So, is it time to change the name of the beloved bag?