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Radley Stories

Style Notes

What Are The Best Cross Body Bags? Find Out More In Our Radley London Guide

07 July 2023

We know a thing or two about handbags, especially when it’s one of our most popular shapes. Of course, we’re talking about the best cross body bags. With our guide, you can find out everything you need to know about them, such as why they’re great for travelling, and how they protect you from theft. 

What is a Cross Body Bag?

It’s exactly what it sounds like: it’s a bag that’s worn diagonally across the body with a one, long strap. An incredibly popular style, it’s favoured for its hands-free capabilities and security, as it allows the wearer to keep their items close. As for how to wear a cross body bag, it should rest at the hip for the most comfortable positioning. 

In terms of shape, size and colour, this bag doesn’t follow any rules. It can be slim or boxy, plain or patterned and everything in between. The strap can be leather or webbing, or even decorative to give the bag extra personality. With so much choice, it can be hard to choose favourites, but we say the best ones are those that suit your style. 


When Were Cross Body Bags Created?

Let us dive into a (brief) history of the cross body bag. 

One of the first bags ever invented is believed to be the girdle pouch – a small fabric bag used to carry coins that hung from the wearer’s belt. These were used by men until the invention of pockets, which began to change the way girdles were used. 

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, the satchel emerged – thought to be one of the earliest cross body bags. It was initially used by school children, until the early ‘80s when it began to be used as an accessory for adults too. It’s thought its popularity grew during this decade due to the release of the first Indiana Jones film, as the main character often carried a satchel. 

Another early edition is the postman’s messenger bag, which dates back as far as 1860. A lightweight cross body bag for travel, it’s typically large and made with fabric. Much like a satchel, it also has a front flap and cross body strap. This makes it practical for postal workers to remove letters and parcels easily as they deliver door-to-door.

A similar style, known as the ‘utility bag’, also became a common accessory used by workers – namely fishermen, soldiers and telephone linemen – to carry tools and personal items while on the job. A cross body bag allowed them to climb, run and walk, while the pockets kept their tools organised and easy to find, without even having to take it off. Although it was a practical, men’s bag style when it first emerged, the utility trend has since returned in women’s fashion.

The bag’s popularity with working professionals continued and in the 1970s, a photojournalist named Jim Domke designed a cross body camera bag – a style that has been adapted for modern fashion consumers and is still widely used today. The original edition was made with lightweight canvas fabric and has multiple horizontal interior sections to hold camera equipment. Due to the contents held inside, this bag has always been boxy and this is a key feature that’s continued into every edition created since.

Soon enough, fashion designers began to see the full potential of the cross body bag. They created new styles that were not only comfortable and practical, but also stylish and modern too. Now, it’s grown into a reliable wardrobe staple and a daily go-to, which comes in many different shapes, sizes and colours to suit everyone’s needs.

Cross Body Bag Trends

As we know from the history of the cross body, this is a style that has evolved from functional workwear to a casual, everyday bag, and it’s still an incredibly popular choice today thanks to its versatility. In more recent years, it has also been adapted for formal events, with more elegant or decorative designs emerging that make perfect occasion bags. Of course, trendy clutch bags are a great alternative for parties too. 

In history, this bag has changed from a typical men’s style to a women’s accessory. Now, the cross body is seen as a gender-neutral option – one that’s made for men and women and provides a way to carry possessions safely while remaining hands-free.

As a result of the industrial revolution, which led to many people travelling the country more freely, these bags rose in popularity. The reason? Travellers needed a practical and secure bag to carry their belongings in. This meant they began shopping around for the best cross body bags for travel. 

When fashion designers began exploring the luxury of these bags, they created new versions that fit in with the trends of the season. When fashion fell in love with oversized accessories, they were expanded, then were downsized again when the micro trend emerged. Now, there are styles available in every size, with the smallest phone cross body bags made to carry just a few cards and your phone. Over time, they’ve also been adapted in terms of security, with new zipped sections and pockets with magnetic and press stud fastenings. These updated designs are now some of the best anti-theft cross body bags on the market.


Different Types of Cross Body Styles

Bucket Bag

Just as it sounds, this type is shaped like a bucket with a structured shape and rounded base. It often comes with an open-top design, but can feature a zip or drawstring fastening for extra security. It may also have a top handle so it can be slipped onto the shoulder too. Many fashion designers have their own editions of this bestselling bag shape. We do, here at Radley London, and each one is crafted with our signature gold-standard leather

Camera Bag

Named after its initial use, the camera bag is a compact, traditionally cube-shaped bag designed to carry a camera. Over time it has been adapted to look more modern, but it still features the same structured, rectangular shape. A popular choice today, many believe these to be the best anti-theft cross body bags as they often have one or more zip fastenings.

Canteen Bag

First designed as a way for hikers, campers and soldiers to carry drinking water, the original canteen bag would hold a flask or bottle and feature a drinking spout at the top – a feature that is not found on the versions we carry today. However, modern styles have kept the same structured, rounded shape and zip fastening. 

Drawstring Bag

Put simply, this bag fastens with drawstring. Different from a bucket bag with a drawstring, this version may be softer and more supple – perhaps crafted in grained leather, suede or velvet. Likely to have small proportions, the drawstring cross body bag is often used as an evening bag or for special occasions. 

Messenger Bag

Also known as a courier bag, utility bag or even a postman’s bag, this style has survived centuries and is still a popular choice today. Many also think these are the best lightweight cross body bags for travel for men, including on commutes, as they are very spacious, secure and comfortable to wear.

Satchel Bag

Very similar to the shape of a messenger bag, but originally designed for students, a satchel bag typically features a flap front with buckle fastenings. One of the first to be invented, these bags have survived history and are still popular today. They are commonly crafted with leather and used by men, women and children.

Saddle Bag

As the name suggests, this bag is inspired by a horse’s saddle. It takes on a curved horseshoe shape, is often crafted in leather and likely features a front flap fastening. Many saddle bags have lots of hardware too, in-keeping with the equestrian theme. 

How to Choose the Right Cross Body Bag for You

What are you using it for?

Before making any purchase it’s important to think about its use – are you going to be using it for work or school? Perhaps you’re looking for a lightweight cross body bag for travel? Deciding on these factors will help you choose, but you can rest assured that there are styles for everything. 

Knowing its purpose will make it clear whether you need a large bag or small bag, one with lots of interior space and handy pockets, or one of the best anti-theft cross body bags. 

How much will you need to put in it?

If you need to carry lots of items with you – perhaps when commuting or travelling – you might want to look for a larger day bag to help keep these things organised. It’s likely that your bag will also be heavier to carry, so one with a thick strap will be better at distributing the weight evenly. 

If you are looking for a casual daytime bag to carry essential items, it might be comfier to cut down on the extra space and opt for a smaller design. When only carrying a few things, lots of compartments might also make it difficult to locate the item you want, so consider a bag with one main section. 

Where are you taking it?

When considering a new bag for your journey, don’t forget to think about the destination too. This might determine the material – whether you want to go for a luxurious leather bag or a practical water-resistant eco-friendly non-leather bag from our Radley Responsible range.

How to Wear a Cross Body Bag?

The typical way to wear this bag is across the body. It’s designed to rest against the hip on one side of the body, while the strap loops over the opposite shoulder. The best cross body bags will have an adjustable strap so you can change its length and make sure the bag sits at the most comfortable spot on your body. 

Knowing how to wear a cross body bag is important as, when worn correctly, it can be good for your health and posture. This is because the strap helps to distribute the weight of the bag and its contents evenly across your body, reducing the risk of shoulder and neck pain. 

While they are still most typically worn against the hip, people now choose to carry these bags in different ways. The athleisure trend sees them worn against the waist (or even higher) by shortening the strap. Some even choose to wear it so the bag sits on the front of their body instead for added security. 

As a rule, the bag you are carrying should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight. Carrying more than this could strain your neck, back and shoulder muscles, causing them to fatigue over time and lead to poor posture, muscle imbalance and risk of injury. If you do need to carry more, be careful not to exceed 20% of your body weight – this is the maximum you should carry.  

As it’s such an iconic and practical style, we expect you’ve already got a cross body of some kind in your wardrobe. But there’s no such thing as too many, so if you’re looking for a new style – one that’s designed in London and expertly crafted – take a look at our new collection.

Or, if you’re looking for a bag that holds a little more, head over to Radley Stories to read our guides on What Are The Best Ladies’ Weekend Holdalls, and How To Choose The Best Affordable Backpack.