Bags of masculinity

Where to keep your iPod, keys, phone, diary, wallet? Annalisa Barbieri has just the thing for you, c

Some years ago I wrote a fashion advice column called Dear Annie for a newspaper. This was a bit like being a doctor at a party, but instead of being asked what I thought the pain in your lower lumbar might be, I'd be quizzed about where you could find the definitive jacket, and so on.

One day, I went in to the photography department of the Victoria and Albert Museum to meet a man who made all photographers dribble at the mere mention of his name, the then curator of photographs and photo-expert/genius/God, Mark Haworth-Booth. Could I help him, he asked. Well, I said, I knew those pictures that I'd taken in 1978 - the ones of grapes hanging off a vine - were quite good, but surely . . . No he said, scribbling on a piece of paper. He was looking for the ultimate accessory, something that had so far eluded him.

He drew; I looked, brushing against him just so I could say I had. An object took shape under his pencil nib. Mark wanted a Man Bag.

This was some ten years ago, when man bags were neither as available nor socially acceptable as they are now. Of course to me, as an Italian, man bags, with their little straps threaded over tanned wrists, were an everyday sight (not that my dad ever carried one, I must point out, because he is supermacho). But back then, a good man bag was hard to find, because very few men this side of the Alps wanted to carry a wrist-bag.

Things changed over the years, largely because of how much stuff men started to carry around with them. Whereas they had previously - quite rightly - taken the mickey out of women and all the crap that they lug about in their handbags, now they found themselves with more than just keys and a credit card to transport: mobile phones, personal organisers, iPods: the ubiquitous fluff of today's men. Sometimes there's even moisturiser and other personal grooming products, more than mere pockets could accommodate.

I'm not sure that I found Mark a bag, although I like to get false memory syndrome at this point. But it wasn't long before Muji, Prada, Cargo and Circa started designing for his market: and these brands are, to my mind, still the market leaders in this area. The preferred design seems to be an across-the-body model; anything involving just one hand still seems to be too academic/feminine for many men, or simply too faffy.

Don't be afraid of internal pockets, which can stop that infuriating and undignified scrabbling for things at moments when decisive finding is needed. Cargo, my current favourite, has loads of organisational features, including - something I covet - a magnetic catch inside for your keys. Naturally, the best thing would be to have a servant to carry things around for you, but not all of us can be that lucky.

When the artist Humphrey Ocean painted Tony Benn's portrait in 1996, he described Benn as being well turned out, but said his suits were "always disfigured by the wealth of gadgets, beepers and pagers in all pockets". Someone who could have done with a man bag, clearly.