Going Old School: Manhattan Portage Waxwear Bag


This is the last installment of my Commuter and Dad Bag Test. I have had the chance to examine and test numerous bags from a number of brands spanning a variety of styles. From nylon messenger bags built for urban transport to a classic leather mailbag ready to handle a lifetime of ageing. I have also gained an appreciation for the many companies out there looking for the next big thing in transporting your stuff.

I’ve tried some very cool bags that have so many pockets, flaps and zippers that I almost needed an instruction book to remember where I put my house key. One bag had no outside pockets at all, not one; so every time I needed to access my metro card, up came the giant flap and a panicked search would ensue. That one didn’t last long.

Perhaps because of all the impressive advancements in the bag market, I also have a much greater appreciation for the basics. The J. Peterman Counterfeit Mail Bag is an excellent example of what I consider mastery of common sense. It is simple, sturdy, beautiful and totally functional. Is it perfect for all your needs? Probably not, but that’s not the point. Every time I carry it, I get at least one compliment before I even reach the office.

The last bag I tested was another simple and timeless design by Manhattan Portage, one of the original messenger bag companies. The Waxed Vintage Messenger Bag (model #1605V-WP, $60.00) sounds slightly intimidating, but it’s really a wonderful bag that has real personality outside of its functional role.

The company itself can be described the same way. When it was founded in 1983, Manhattan Portage had a simple philosophy, “a bag for everyone.” 25 years later it still holds true. Across the globe, from Boston to Osaka, Manhattan Portage’s line of bags are indeed everywhere and carried by everyone. I even saw one on a barge trip in Provence, France.

As a company, Manhattan Portage remains loyal to its New York roots. Because their designs are functional and straightforward, the bags always seem to be in style – no mean feat in a city that’s constantly in search of something new and different.

Manhattan Portage has been able to avoid becoming another fleeting fad and withstand the test of time because their bags do. In fact, a fascinating April 2007 Esquire story documents the survival and subsequent examination of the writer’s messenger bag after making it out of lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. That’s one tough bag.

The one I tested, under far less strenuous conditions, is nonetheless a robust bag that will be around for a long time. Constructed of waxwear, it is a little heavier than similar nylon-based bags. What is gained though, a natural and durable material, is worth the difference.

The fabric used by Manhattan Portage is from Herbert Rice, one of the top makers of waxed fabrics. Waxwear, a trademarked product, is a cotton-based fabric impregnated with a paraffin formula derived from recipes from the turn of the last century. Proofed against inclement weather, it maintains the breathability of cotton. And, as anyone with an old Barbour jacket can tell you, it ages really well.

Smaller in appearance than I expected, this bag is deceivingly large and its single main compartment comfortably swallowed multiple books, pads and other weighty stuff. There is a small zippered pocket on the rear inside panel well sized for pens, keys and loose change. My bag is lined with a day-glo yellow that makes it easy to find most anything in there – no dark corners.

Closure is achieved by a wide Velcro strip that extends across the front of the bag. The flap’s underside is outfitted with two vertical mating strips that hold the flap snugly in place; easy to open and close. The strap is heavy duty Cordura and sizing is managed by a strong metal buckle.

Overall, this is one of the most useful messenger style bags I have tested. Its size and design are practical and the waxed navy blue material blends well with most outfits short of a suit. It’s definitely a keeper.


Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice


  1. Unfortunately, they appear to have only two waxwear bags in their lineup, the rest is nylon.

  2. Peng, you are correct; as a real messenger bag company, their bags are mostly heavy duty nylon. The waxwear ones are more like specialty items, but are great functional bags nonetheless.