Why Can't We Get the Fanny Pack Right?

What is it about fanny packs?. (Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock)
A man walking a dog holds a dog-poo bag while wearing a fanny pack
Far and away the best thing about fanny packs is that they leave your hands free — for whatever you might need to use them for. (Photo: Imphoto/Shutterstock)

I'll be the first to admit — fanny packs have a lot of advantages: They're the right size to carry everything you really need (phone, keys, wallet); they're nice and simple, without a bunch of complicated pockets; unlike a backpack, your stuff is easily accessible; and best of all, they leave your hands and arms completely free. To navigate the world unencumbered by a purse or bag hanging on one's shoulder is a beautiful thing.

But those benefits have some very real cons: Fanny packs slide around as you walk; they can't hold much (forget carrying a book or magazine); and they can be really, really unflattering. (More on that below.)

The mid-'80s was my personal introduction to fanny packs, but they're much older than that. According to Leaf: "Fanny packs date back to the French in the 15th century when they wore a small bag that hung from a belt called a chatelaine." In 1986, I had a purple one that I wore while traveling with my grandma (who also wore one) to the Caribbean, Florida, California and Australia. Being 8-10 years old meant I was more interested in the fact that mine was the right shade of purple than in how it looked on my body. Later, in the mid-'90s, I wore a square Mountainsmith fanny pack to day hike in.

A classicist when it comes to my fanny-pack style, I have always liked to wear them 'behind' me — that is, above my butt. That isn't actually ideal for traveling since you can easily be pick-pocketed when you wear them that way, but it's great for hiking or trail running, where I have found these packs to be most useful. That's a sentiment echoed by one woman in the video experiment below that asked five women to wear them for a week. They had some issues ...

That was then; what about now?

Yet again, we find ourself in the midst of yet another fanny pack revival of sorts, which started a couple years ago. As Vogue.com put it: "...the hip-hugging accessory is back — logo-fied, leopard-printed, embroidered, and embellished — and grabbing fans (and fannies) everywhere from the runway to the streets." Vogue points out that these days, it's all about wearing them on your hip, which is both a style update and a way to fight the rounded profile they give the wearer if placed over the belly.

Woman wearing a fanny pack.

If we all looked this way wearing a fanny pack, there would be no discussion. (Photo courtesy Bead & Reel)

About that last part: Nobody can deny the basic truth about what people also call bum bags or belt bags — they're unflattering. Outside the outdoor sports world, where fanny-pack fans have always found a home (nature enthusiasts being function-over-form types who don't care what the squirrels think of their fashion choices), we always come down to the same issue: the fanny pack's pouch up front makes you look paunchy. And let's be real, the pack always ends up in front — you can never really keep it on one hip or the other as Vogue suggests.

Now, if you're the kind of person who doesn't give a stuff about such superficial things as perceived belly size, that's wonderful, and keep doing what you're doing. Seriously. For the rest of us, the convenience of the fanny pack is outweighed by the fact that it indecorously cuts us in half and calls attention to the part of our body we might be a bit sensitive about.

For me, fanny packs are the sartorial metaphor for everything in life that doesn't work the way you want it to — the Pinterest fails of real life, which is often disappointing. And I'm sure this is why they go in and out of style. Because we humans are eternally optimistic, aren't we? Every time the bum bags come 'round, we think, "Well, maybe this time it will work for me!"

But don't let me dissuade you here: Maybe this time fanny packs will work for you!