Millennials are killing purse sales and replacing them with backpacks

Sales of women's backpacks are consistently rising, experts say.
More women are wearing backpacks to the office
Cute backpacks like this one are everywhere now, and experts say women are buying fewer handbags these days.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY
By Rheana Murray

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For years, businessmen in cities like New York and San Francisco have been forgoing stuffy briefcases in favor of backpacks — now women are getting on board.

According to a recent story in The Atlantic, more women are ditching their purses and wearing backpacks to the office.

And many of them say they'll never go back to an ordinary handbag.

"I have shoulder issues, and I've been using a backpack to help with posture," one woman wrote on Twitter. "Plus it frees up my hands. I'm never going back to a purse (except for formal occasions)."

"I haven't owned a purse since 2015 and I never plan on going back," another woman wrote.

Research backs up the trend.

According to the market research company NPD, sales of women's backpacks are up 28% in the past year, while sales of women's handbags have dropped in recent years.

"Consumers have gotten really into the functionality of products," Beth Goldstein, NPD's accessories and footwear analyst, told TODAY Style. "You're carrying your phone, you're carrying your coffee — having that accessibility, and having pockets for everything, that's giving them the value."

She thinks the spike in women's backpacks is two-fold: 1) More women are carrying backpacks to work, because they can go hands-free during their commute and fit everything they need for the day, and 2) more women are trading everyday pursues for smaller, fashion backpacks, because more brands are making them. (And really cute ones, too — see below!)

This all fits in with the rise of a more casual corporate culture, where athleisure is increasingly worn at the office, and fashionable sneakers have started to replace high heels for women and dress shoes for men.

Many women say the biggest perk of carrying a backpack is how much better their backs feel. Dr. Karen Erickson, a chiropractor in New York City, explained how carrying a bag on one arm can hurt your spine.

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"Carrying handbags or purses, which are often heavy, can cause or reinforce muscle imbalances in the spine and shoulder region," she told TODAY via email. "Depending on the weight and size of the bag it can also impact the way in which one walks by impeding the even swing of the arms associated with a normal gait pattern."

Backpacks — or even crossbody bags, Erickson points out — help by equally distributing the weight across both shoulders and allowing you to swing your arms naturally.

"There are tons of sophisticated backpacks out there for women to choose from," she said. "Gone are the days when using a backpack makes you look like a fourth grader."

Sure enough, many fashionable brands have introduced backpacks to their collections. Here are a few of our favorites.

  • 1. Herschel Supply Settlement Mid-Volume Backpack, $50 (originally $60), Amazon

"I bought this backpack 10 months ago and use it every day! I was searching for an affordable bag, both cute and trendy that would fit my laptop and daily necessities," Halle Proper, audience development coordinator, said. "This was the perfect choice."

NPD mentioned Dagne Dover as being one of the brands focused on providing both functionality and fashionable design. We recommended the brand's neoprene carryall bags as one of our top gifts for Mother's Day, and this stylish backpack is made from the same material.

  • 3. Knomo Beauchamp Business Backpack, $179, Amazon

"I got my Beauchamp backpack nearly three years ago after much hemming and hawing, because it was going to be the most expensive backpack I'd ever splurged on," weekend editor Yi-Jin Yu said. "At the time, I couldn’t find any other backpacks that were similar. Of course, now I see so many other women on the subway who carry the same backpack (same color and size, too!). I especially love the Beauchamp style for several reasons — it's super stylish and small (perfect for my petite frame), but also holds my laptop, tablet and extras, without looking bulky at all."

Direct-to-consumer brand Everlane was also among the brands NPD mentioned. This affordable backpack includes an interior pocket built to fit a 13-inch laptop and can be condensed into a small travel pouch when not in use.

  • 5. Burton Tinder Backpack with Laptop Compartment, $72, Amazon

"When I'm traveling for a trip, I also always pack a Burton backpack in a fun floral print," video producer Carly Marsh said. "I love that it has a padded laptop compartment and that the straps are super supportive (it gets super heavy when loaded with camera gear). When it's totally full, it still fits under an airplane seat and counts as my personal item. It's the best. Backpacks for life!"

We've been seeing these MZ Wallace backpacks all over New York City, and they're another one of the brands NPD included in its list. This quilted design includes a pocket big enough for a 15-inch laptop, plus six additional pockets for easy compartmentalization.

  • 7. Calpak Kaya Faux Leather Laptop Backpack, $89, Nordstrom

"One of the things that held me back from fully embracing the backpack life was the (incorrect) notion that backpacks are inherently not stylish. My sister bought this faux leather laptop backpack and totally proved me wrong," commerce editor Courtney Gisriel said. "I immediately followed suit and have never looked back."

For more recommendations, check out:

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This story was originally published on May 10.

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