Like all great signature bags, the Émigré Boston carries a rich and unique history. As its name would suggest, its roots hail from Massachusetts' beloved ‘Shining City Upon a Hill’: a bona fide Bostonian that rose from modest local beginnings to become a celebrated fixture at every fashion end.
The flexibility, style and status of the Boston Bag as an effortless and dutiful carryall cements it as an enduring icon of the carry world. Its international popularity and celebrated evolution, from the end of the American Civil War to the modern day, makes it a prime piece on the Émigré roster. It’s worth unpacking the lineage of this time-honored multi-tasker.
What defines a Boston Bag? More than anything, its status as a versatile utility and travel accessory: typically oblong bottomed, tapered in at each end, and carried with two loop handles. Shapes, styles and variations have come and gone throughout the decades, but the Boston’s foundational qualities stay the same: a bag that pulls a lot more than just its weight inside alone.
There was a time when the bag you carried told the world about who you were and how you spent your time. Bags said a lot: what your job was, how you got around, even what your status in society was. In Bag Technic and the Hourly Nurse, Ruth W. Hubbard highlights how the Boston Bag was one of two standard issue bags provided to nurses from visiting nurse associations; to see a woman carrying a Boston Bag back in the day indicated she had medical skills, and was likely on her way to assisting someone; one glance at this bag in motion, and the onlooker could easily imagine a kit of thermometers, syringes and other essentials inside its leather confines.
Your bag once also linked you to a certain place. At the turn of the 20th Century, the Boston Bag was the only bag in town worth owning if you happened to call Boston home. As writer Patti Bender points out on her blog The Emilie Loring Collection, from the Civil War to the Gay Nineties the bag belonged to locals alone: a “requisite possession of every true Bostonian.”
Valise shaped, lightweight, typically made from cloth with leather reinforcement, it was as dexterous as it was egalitarian; everyone seemed to use them, for more or less everything. Bender highlights the work of prolific fiction author, and proud Bostonian, Emilie Loring, who evoked the Boston Bag’s social importance in her 1916 work Ramblings Through Old Boston: a pieces carried by women, men, young and old, rich and poor, for every essential day to day purpose.
Bostonians were considered more practical compared to counterparts in other urban hubs; New Yorkers, for example, usually went for more compact, fashion-driven purses – as Bender corroborates with a periodical clipping from the 1896 Boston Daily Globe:
When a Back Bay lady or a West End Belle walks down Broadway in New York, or saunters through the streets of Chicago, she is known immediately … ‘That woman is from Boston–see the bag!’”
The burgeoning Massachusetts icon wouldn’t confine itself to local trends much longer. It had the world and future to conquer.
How did the Boston Bag actually come to Boston to begin with? Homespun reality, or the by-product of external influence? Some point to the bag used on the other side of the Atlantic in the British House of Commons – a green Petitions Bag sat on the back of the Speaker’s Chair, in which MPs would submit their petitions to be enacted in parliamentary sessions, a tradition that still continues to this day.
It’s worth reminding also that the history of the bag is a long and winding one, and the Boston enters the lineage at a time of great societal transformation. Bags have always modified themselves to adapt to human and social need; around the time of the Industrial Revolution, rapid expansion in railroads led to more and longer distance commuting, necessitating more spacious, versatile carry accessories. The boulevard bag, briefcase, doctors’ bag, Boston and all those like it all arose from this seismic socio-economic shift. In short, the Boston’s emergence in society is intrinsically linked to this turn of the century rise in new professions: new jobs, and the need to commute for them, necessitated new products to carry our kit in. Then, like today, work and travel define and shape what we carry, and what we carry it in.
Bags to Riches
Eventually, New Yorkers and Chicagans eventually embraced the Boston Bag, as did America and the world with it. Leather became the fabric du jour throughout the 1920s, replacing lighter canvas and cotton. As the decades transpired, leading designers, and international stars, took the style in as their own: Louis Vuitton, as worn by Audrey Hepburn in the ‘60s, Gucci, St Laurent, et al., a style icon with the s – a transit bag that found its way to the red carpet, but never forgot its roots.
Though today’s Boston Bags come in an array of dimensions, sizes, designs and materials – far from what was carried around Boston’s Beacon Hill, North End, and Historic Downtown – the spirit of the original lives on. Émigré’s Boston Bag is designed with the bag’s original ethos and sensibility in mind: a bag built for work and for the commute. Perfect for one to three nights on the road, the Émigré Boston remains a pre-eminent utilitarian, though turns heads with a beautiful, minimalist aesthetic. While it might not tell the world exactly what you do – or where exactly you’re from – it speaks volumes about the kind of traveller you are. As versatile as it is timeless, our Boston is the ultimate journey companion, a modern business travel essential.
About Cam Hassard - Writer
Australian-born writer, editor, journalist and musician, Cam Hassard has spent the better part of the past two decades in Émigré-mode living and travelling abroad, and currently calls Berlin home.
About Thanh Hung Trinh- Artist
Thanh Hung Trinh was born in Hanoi, Vietnam, and at age three left the country as part of the boat person exodus. Thanh settled in Switzerland where he studied fine arts and launched a career in graphic, product and industrial design. He is a co-founder of Émigré where he currently serves as the Head of Design.