Thursday, May 15, 2014

Best cross-body bag

Answer:  In my opinion, the best one on the American market to date is the Navigator Bagg by baggallini, which is available at The Container Store.
It may even be exclusive to The Container Store because I can't find it listed for sale anywhere else.

Image courtesy of The Container Store.
I will explain in detail why this is my choice, showing all the problems I had with numerous other brands.
They are not unknown in the American consumer market, but they are not as popular here as they are in Europe, which boasts a larger collection of pedestrian societies.  This makes finding a good one surprisingly difficult.

Quote screengrabbed from ebags.   
Unfortunately, my photo-documentation series is incomplete, because I've already given away more failed cross-body bags than I can count.  But here are a few shots of those that still linger unused and undonated in my closets.  If you are a cross-body bag aficionado, maybe these pics will convince you that you need to choose wisely if you want to avoid wasting your hard-earned money.
While not explicitly promoted as a cross-body bag, the "Healthy Back Bag" was one of the first on the market to claim an ergonomic-type advantage.  
I had two of them over the years and I had the same complaints with each.  The sateen fabric on this black model showed dirt really badly.  And the fabric was not robust enough for the punishment that I typically dole out to handbags.  It tended to look worn very quickly.  
Furthermore, they weren't well-designed from a compartmentalization standpoint.  Basically all my junk would end up in a heap at the bottom of the bag.  I didn't find the interior compartments to be very useful.  
Durability and design are equally non-negotiable where cross-body bags are concerned.  These types of handbags are not carried by the type of average women who may drive back and forth among their suburban homes, the grocery store, and an office job.  If you are searching for a cross-body bag, you are probably professionally-oriented, but you're no fashionista.  You're a woman who moves around a lot and who needs to keep her hands free and her purse contents within quick, efficient reach.  No rummaging around like a guinea pig in a fresh pile of wood shavings while the rest of the world waits for you to get your stuff together.

Having had poor luck with fabric bags, I moved on to leather, which proved to have its own faults.
I thought I was onto something good when I found this Fossil bag.  The leather quality was better than average and the bag was reasonably well-designed.  
A properly designed cross-body bag will have an integrated wallet compartment on the exterior of the bag - that's what makes them maximally efficient.  No digging through the purse for a wallet, prying open the wallet, rifling through the contents... you should just pop open a convenient flap and immediately access your cash and plastic.  This particular Fossil did not have a large enough number of integrated credit card slots, but I could live with that much (you can see one line of them down the center of this flap pocket).  
However, I could not live with this atrocity.  While the bag itself was a good quality leather, the straps that hold the handle onto the bag were a crummy grade of leather or vinyl wrapped around something that looked like cardboard to bulk it up.  Almost immediately, the edges frayed, revealing the cardboard-like material inside, a flaw that was basically impossible to fix without incurring more labor cost than the bag was worth.  Whenever I'd look at this, I'd recall that famous soul-crushing line from "Silence of the Lambs":  "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes?"  Well, with this mess, I felt like I had good shoes and a cheap bag.  *Fail*.  
Mmmmkay, so what did I do next??  Bought yet another leather bag.  I realize I was being a sucker for punishment but I have a very specific lifestyle and I simply need a good cross-body bag, so I had to keep trying different models.  

Unfortunately the leather on this one was not as good as the Fossil had been, and it showed wear very quickly.  I don't know what brand it is, because I bought it at DSW in the Baybrook shopping center of Clear Lake Texas, and it seemed to be no-name.  

Furthermore, it had another design flaw that quickly made it look ridiculous.  There was a decorative buckle on the front, but the buckle prong pointed up instead of down (thanks, China!).  What that meant was that, when I'd lift the bag upward from the floor or wherever, the prong tended to hook on whatever the bag brushed up against (e.g., the side of the car seat, the cushion of the couch, the person standing next to me, etc.)  So I then had to take wire cutters and snip the buckle prong off.  But between that move and the leather that wore thin quickly, I was right back into cheap-looking territory.  *Fail*.  
The other limitation that you should realize with respect to leather is the weight.  If you're a cross-body woman, you're probably on the go, zooming around on foot, physically active, and perhaps in addition to your bag you are carrying other equipment and/or small children.  Realize that you're going to be hauling around 1.5 to 2 pounds of unnecessary CG-destroying weight if you choose a leather bag.  I ended up concluding that the high-end look afforded by leather simply wasn't worth it.
My very next bag boondoggle was a nylon Travelon model.  They are advertised as offering security features because they have clips that allow you to secure the zipper pockets.  There's also a wire running through the main strap so it can't be easily cut by a purse-snatcher.   
This one offered the advantage of a light-colored interior which allowed me to see the contents more easily.  And mercifully, there were more credit card slots than the Fossil had.  
However, there were two fatal flaws.  Number one, the zippers kept letting go on me - they were (in my opinion) too flimsy to stand up to the abuse I dish out.  Number two, the thing didn't really have a good convenient pocket for a smart phone, which is the Kiss of Death where purses are concerned.  Both side pockets were too small, but I tended to cram my phone in there anyway, which made the zipper splitting problem even worse.  
Incidentally, even with all these photos, all these different brands, and all these complaints, there were still more purses that I bought and later gave away because they just didn't work.  For instance, REI has produced some wonderful cross-body bags over the years - assuming the wearer never exceeds 21 years of age, that is.  REI's handbag products tend to be durable and excellently designed, but they lack sophistication.  I'm taking my bag to corporate meeting rooms in sky scrapers on Smith Street - I'm not taking them camping.

Sigh.  Enter, finally, the baggallini.
I have yet to find a bad flaw - and obviously I'm a flaw-finder.  The nylon fabric is very durable and repels dirt. I don't just visit Smith Street skyscrapers - I have dragged this bag through some of Houston's grittiest industrial plants, perhaps as many as thirty times so far.  You'd never know it by looking at this pic.  
The front pocket is big enough even for oversized smart phones.  It closes with a magnet for one-handed opening.  
The front flap with the cell phone in it lifts up to reveal the zippered wallet feature.  There's a photo ID slot on the outside, which is really convenient for me because I often need to surrender my TDL as I enter high-security facilities.  
Here's the feature that separates the men from the boys, metaphorically speaking.  When you open the wallet, the credit card slots are on the side farthest away from you, such that you're automatically looking straight at them rather than having to lift the bag to horizontal in trying to peer at the inside wall of this pocket.  THAT took real headwork on the part of the designer.  Somebody took the time to think this thing through.   
Another stroke of genius - like I said, women who carry cross-body bags tend to be on the move and they don't fool around with life.  If they use cosmetics at all, it's often limited to the basics.  The main compartment of this bag contains elasticized holders for just the two barest essentials - mascara and lipstick.

Some of REI's early cross-body bags had lipstick loops as well.  Just lipstick - nothing else.  Because outdoorsy women will often use lipstick as their token effort at social conformism, and to heck with everything else.  
Close-up of the corner, where the wear tends to show the worst (it's about six months old in this photo, six months of heavy use).  So far, so good.  
So after untold hundreds of dollars spent over the years on other products, the baggallini Navigator Bagg is my favorite because it is:

  1. Sophisticated enough for the skyscrapers
  2. Durable enough for the industrial dungeons
  3. Light enough so that it doesn't throw me off balance on long treks, and 
  4. Efficient enough so that it doesn't leave me cursing and fumbling at the check-out counter.  

Should I later discover hidden flaws, I will update this post, but for now, this is my hard-won winner.  

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