We’ve got a little saying around here you’ve probably heard us mention a time or two: Would our grandfathers be proud of it?
It’s a litmus test our founder has used since Buffalo Jackson was born. If it’s not something that’s useful and stylish today, while also honoring to the men whose shoulders we stand on, then we’re not going to put our name on it. What’s that got to do with a duffle bag? Well, for starters it’s a “Duffel bag,” officially. See, our ancestors created the bag Americans call a “duffle” when European sailors hundreds of years ago started making seabags out of a heavy cloth they also used to repair torn sails. It was made in Duffel, Belgium. The modern-day equivalent is a high-grade canvas.
The cloth worked so well protecting against sea spray that it became a standard practice to use the material to store personal belongings and other items at sea. Sailors and soldiers alike used various forms of canvas and burlap bags for centuries. By end of World War II and for several decades afterwards the U.S. Army began issuing a new modified duffle to most soldiers. It stood upright on its end with a folding top closed by a clasp.
My dad still has the green bag he was issued. I used to love borrowing it for camping trips when I was a teenager. Soldiers carried these over their shoulders to battle, to base camp and back home. For some, everything they valued could be found inside that canvas tube — letters from Mom, a photo of the girl they loved. Dad had a system for packing his; and he’d tell me how it had to pass inspection and not exceed weight limits. American duffle bags were made for men at war.
Like so many men’s fashions, GIs introduced the gear to civilians. In the 60’s duffles were fashionable with California surfers. We eventually began to add straps and pockets. We flipped them on their side to make the bag’s contents more accessible. The uses ranged from the mundane road trip to the scandalous escapade — think of all the drugs, cash and contraband hauled around in duffle bags.
Today, we’re using them for everything — the gym, the office, business travel. And along the way we’ve strayed from the original character and intent of the bags. There’s probably a woman in your life who has turned that sailor’s canvas into something that looks like this:
Even men’s duffles took a wrong turn in recent years. Beyond the carry-on or the gym bag, luxury fashion designers began seeing bags as a new frontier for styling men. From messenger satchels to man-purses, bags became big money for big designers. The original purpose of the bag became secondary to how it looked in a catalog. The result is stuff like this $4,000 number from Louis Vuitton:
All that brings us back to where we started. Grandfathers. The men before us used bags to carry out missions. Their bags were tossed by sea swells. They were lugged over shoulders during marches to conquer dictators and despots. Even in peace, as men criss-crossed America and the globe to explore, to acquire and to adventure, their duffle bags stuffed with essentials and valuables followed them in pickup truck beds, Jeep floorboards and airplane luggage bins.
We think that’s a good legacy to uphold. We make some damn fine bags from waxed canvas and full-grain leather. And so do a lot of other good companies. But it’s easy to buy a good-looking bag and forget its original purpose. We hate to see that. So wherever your bag came from, next time you pack it for a journey, make sure you’re doing a little fighting, exploring or adventuring along the way. Stash your sweetheart’s picture, a flask, a mess kit, and yeah, some cash, in that durable sidekick. Hit the open road or the open seas. And come back with a story your Grandpa would be proud of.