Messenger bags were named after the bicycle couriers who preferred the across-the-chest bag style for its ease of use. As bike messengers became prevalent in major cities, the look of the durable bag caught on with other hip young urbanites, moving the bag from counterculture to mainstream. Today, almost all bag manufacturers make a variation of the messenger bag.
The basic features of a messenger bag fit the original needs of a bicycle courier, requiring the bag to sit securely on the back while riding, to allow easy access to its contents and to be flexible enough to accommodate different size loads. While messenger bag styles now vary greatly, all bags feature the same core components.
The most important feature is a strong durable strap that fits securely across the chest, allowing the bag itself to sit centered on the back. Some messenger bags also include a second, stabilizing strap for heavier loads. Straps are usually reinforced to the bag with strong stitching for added support, and frequently include some form of additional padding along the shoulder or chest area.
The original messenger bags featured durable canvas construction, resulting in an unstructured, softer bag that could hold a wide variety of contents. The bag itself was large and resembled a sack, with no interiors pockets or dividers. Current variations on the messenger bag include leather, suede, fabric or nylon waterproof materials, but most still maintain the casual appearance of the original, albeit with more divided interiors to hold a variety of items.
The hallmark of the messenger bag is its large front flap closure, providing easier access to its contents than a conventional zipper top opening. The traditional flap does not buckle or snap but simply fold over the full front of the bag. More fashionable variations can include some kind of ornate closure snap or clasp, but the signature full flap is still the most popular version. Traditional messenger bags are also free of outside pockets or details, while modern versions now include multiple outside pockets for accessories.
Today, messenger bags are available in virtually any fabric and style imaginable, with purposes ranging from diaper bags to laptop computer cases. However, all messenger bags still retain the functionality, durability and casual look that made them so popular.