You could be forgiven for thinking that the terms Satchel bags and Messenger bags are interchangeable but although they may appear very similar there are some important differences.
Satchels and Messenger bags have different origins
We know, from depictions on Trajan’s Column, that Roman soldiers carried an early form of satchel, known as the ‘loculus’ or little place. Although no loculus has survived we assume that they were made from a single goatskin and were probably used to carry rations and personal belongings. The satchel has long been associated with scholarly pursuits, its shape specifically adapted for the carrying of books, a much more precious commodity in the past than they are today. Scottish monks, around 300AD used satchels to carry their handwritten bibles and Shakespeare speaks of: ‘the whining schoolboy with his satchel, creeping unwillingly to school.’ The satchel became standard school equipment for British school children of the nineteen fifties and sixties. The Messenger bag is of American origin and was probably first used in the days of the Pony Express. The bag was designed to be used when riding a horse and later, a bicycle or motorcycle. They were used to carry important documents and consequently were fitted with secure means of closing such as clasps, buckles or later, zippers. Initially, the bags were used by messengers, couriers and postal workers but in the 1970’s they gained popularity as a fashionable bag for men.
Satchels and Messenger bags are made from different materials
Satchels are made from leather, thinner and softer than that of a briefcase to allow the satchel to adjust to the form of the body. Traditionally, Messenger bags are made from a lightweight, waterproof material such as waxed canvas.
Satchels and Messenger bags are worn in a different way
Satchels have a long shoulder strap which allows the wearer to carry the bag on the shoulder and let it ride on the hip or wear it diagonally across the body. British school satchels of the nineteen fifties sometimes featured two straps so that the satchel could be worn as a back-pack. Messenger bags have a cross-body strap and are designed to be worn against the lower back, they can then be easily pulled to the side or front to access the contents. Specialist cycling Messengers, hug the back, hanging diagonally from shoulder to hip, thus allowing complete freedom of movement. They have a shorter strap than a satchel, usually with padding at the shoulder and sometimes with the addition of a stabilizing strap under the armpit to keep the bag in position. Messenger bags are usually wider than they are tall.
Satchels and Messenger bags have a subtly different image
Whilst both bags are used by men and women, the Messenger has become a youthful substitute for the briefcase and is now worn by men and women in a business context. The satchel has a slightly more quirky and nostalgic image, often accentuated in contemporary designs by the use of brightly coloured leather.