A History of the Fanny Pack, From Pre-History to Supreme to Paris Runways
The whole tale of fashion’s most divisive accessories.
Photograph via Getty Images.
Fanny packs are perhaps the world’s most polarizing trend (and the oldest, as you’re about to learn), with a history as up-and-down as a celebrity marriage. How did this staple of horrible tourist style land on the runways of Chanel and the hottest guys at Paris Fashion Week? Come along with us, from the 4th millennium to the fourth dimension (well, maybe not that far—but I have an intriguing time travel theory towards the end!).
The Iceman’s Belt: 3400-3100 BCE
Perhaps the oldest fashion trend in the world, the fanny pack first appeared about 5,000 years ago, as a part of the tremendous wardrobe of Ötzi, aka the Iceman, whose mummified bod was discovered in the Ötzal Alps between Germany and Austria. Ötzi, who lived some time between 3400 and 3100 BCE, wore clothing made from six different animal species and 17 different trees, according to the website PrimitiveWays.com—and it is from calf leather than he fashioned a belt with a pouch, aka a primitive fanny pack. “This simple leather belt would stay with him under all but the most extreme conditions,” writes PrimitiveWays.com. Skateboarders would develop much the same relationship to their bags thousands of years later. “The belt pouch contained three flint tools, one bone awl, and a lump of Fomes fomentarius or, true tinder fungus.” (Of course, that last part means something totally different today—but everything else about this bag feels surreally familiar.)
The Fanny Pack: The 1980s
Other civilizations—the Egyptians, the Scots, English knights, and others—continued Ötzi’s tradition of pouches fastened to the body with a lace or strap, but fast forward to the ’80s and you will find the fanny pack in its purest and most polarizing form. Usually made from nylon or ripstop, they were durable, colorful, practical—and not chic. Their functionality meant they were quickly adopted by tourists, on whom the fanny pack was often a feature of a sloppily-assembled or ill-fitting outfit of T-shirt and baggy shorts. Tourism in both New York and Japan boomed during the ’80s, perhaps solidifying a worldwide image of the sloggy American cramming their belongings in a cheap little bag that rested gently on the butt.
The Chanel Fanny Pack: 1994
There’s nothing the fashion industry loves more than the chance to make everyone reconsider something they’ve written off as uncool. For Fall 1994, Karl Lagerfeld created fanny packs for Chanel in the house’s signature quilted black lambskin. They were referred to, however, as “belt bags” (wouldn’t Ötzi be proud!); vintage bags from this collection now sell for upwards of $4,000.
The Ironic Fanny Pack: The Late 1990s-2014
After the fervor for Ötzi bags died down in the late ’90s—with designers from Louis Vuitton to Gucci joining in the fun—the fanny pack emerged as a staple of the irony-driven hipster fashion of the coastal underemployed. The retail flagship of this movement, American Apparel, produced the must-have (and suspiciously affordable) version.
The Skater Bag: Mid-90s-present day
At the same time, skateboarders in Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo start wearing the bag as an easy way to keep keys, phone, weed, wallet, and any other necessities safe while spending the day skating. The skate brand Supreme began producing them early in the brand’s history, which only made the bags more popular. Just as we do not know the name of the human who began walking on two feet instead of four, we only can confirm that at some point, the skaters navigated the bag up from their hips and slung it across their body, wearing it like a bandolier. As an amateur anthropologist (I’ve studied Ötzi!), I surmise that this allowed interference-free leg movement, and also made for easier access while on the board since the bag’s zipper and its contents were more accessible. It is from skaters, the big juicy crush of the fashion world, that the fanny pack found its way back onto the runways. Though the bag’s spirit has gone luxe, you can still spot skaters from Lafayette Street to Maihama Skate Park wearing fanny packs.
The Cross-Body Bag and the “Waist Bag”: 2015-2017
Supreme began making larger fanny packs, with curved straps and more adjustable features, designed to be worn across the front of the body a la skater. Menswear fixtures like the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gallagher and stylish downtowners started slinging fanny packs across their chests, too, like a cross-body back or, as one person told New York Magazine, “a shoulder bag” (“Keep dreaming!!!” –Ötzi’s mummified body). Likewise, brands from Gucci to Louis Vuitton once again began producing fanny packs, though now, they are truer to the original ’80s silhouette, and even go by “bumbag” (though some still insist they are waist bags. Ok, dahling!). This has made them a streetwear staple, whether it is the affordable (though hard to get) Supreme version, or in their fancy runway cousins.
The Chest Rig: 2017-?
Streetwear brand Alyx continued to evolve the crossbody bag more and more and until it morphed into an almost-vest (though clearly more an accessory than a garment): the chest-rig. It fastens the fanny pack body, now more rectangular, in the middle of the chest, and straps it in tight with four plastic buckles instead of just one. Kanye wore one on the streets of New York in December 2017, setting off a fervor for them. They even make jokes about them on the runways of Russia!
The Tactical Vest: 2018-?
The most recent evolution in the fanny pack trend is the tactical vest, a kind of wearable cross-body bag or vest with many, many pockets. In the past year, brands from Alyx to Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton to Kim Jones’s Dior Men’s have morphed their lust for fanny packs into something wearable, a bag-cum-garment. (There is also this, but I cannot get into it or the spirit of Ötzi will end me.) This tactical vest, part of what Vogue.com referred to as “warcore,” resembles a fly-fishing vest—or what we might call “the glorified Ötzi.” History is a circle!