Angela Koh, fashion market editor for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, looks back at the unusual roots of the modern-day must-have

Wedding pictures
Blue cashmere sweater

Living in New York City­, where I’m constantly running around and commuting on public transit, means a sturdy and reliable bag is a necessity. But while functionality is a major priority, why not make it look cute, too? Cue my trusty Loewe balloon bucket bag (in black of course — true New Yorker here). With its structured bucket silhouette, sturdy wide base, and hands-free cross-body strap, it has the capacity for everything I need over the course of a long day. Even including gym shoes… The drawstring closure makes belongings easily accessible; very handy, especially when rushing to catch a train.

My first bucket bag purchase, however, wasn’t for its roominess. I bought the Simon Miller Bonsai in the smallest available size (15 cm) when mini bags were just starting their boom a couple of years back. It played as my modern day clutch. When worn with a cocktail dress to parties and weddings, it added a youthful, cool edge to my look. When I threw my essentials in it to run errands or for a casual weekday dinner, it polished up my laid-back ensembles. When dressing, I love juxtaposition: my Air Force Ones with a Molly Goddard dress, for example, or Manolos with my vintage Levi’s, and my mini bucket is a versatile accessory to play with.

Versatility is surely one of the many reasons the bucket is an iconic shape — a mini version can be used as a cool evening bag hanging off the wrist, while a midi style can be the most practical bag in your wardrobe because it fits everything you need, and more. Going to the beach? A woven bucket bag will stylishly carry your beach towel and picnic snacks but will add a wanderlust edge when worn in the city. 

Blue cashmere sweater

Ironically, the first bucket bag was created not to hold the wallets, keys, phone of a modern-day-working-city girl. It was conceived in 1932 by Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of the founder of the French fashion house that started out making leather trunks and accessories. It was an uber-luxe piece of kit designed to carry around champagne bottles — and probably not on public transit. This utilitarian structured bag was named the Noé and lives on to be one of Louis Vuitton’s most iconic styles today. In the years since its invention, the fashion world caught on and throughout the decades different iterations of the bucket bag each had their moment. In the ‘50s, Hermès, a brand with a history rooted in the equestrian, introduced their version — it was named “Seau Mangeoire,” which translates as ‘bucket feed bag.’ But it wasn’t until a decade later that the bucket bag really hit mainstream fashion. In 1962, the founders of Coach, just a small men’s accessory brand at that time, hired American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin to create their first collection of women’s handbags. Cashin’s collection included a fashionable leather bucket bag, whose popularity spread like wildfire. Almost 50 years later, a similar craze for the bag hit the fashion world thanks to the duo behind Mansur Gavriel. With its contemporary price point, minimalist aesthetic and buttery soft leathers, available in an array of colors, the brand became an Insta-hit. Although the bags appear simple and are logo-less, they’re instantly recognizable all the same, such has been their impact in the world of ‘It’ bags. Celebrities such as Sienna Miller, Miranda Kerr, and Kirsten Dunst have all been seen sporting a Mansur Gavriel bucket bag around town.

Some of my other favorite contemporary brands offering a variety of bucket shapes (as well as eye-pleasing Instagrams) are Los Angeles-based Staud, and Italian label TL 180. And in the world of luxury, Jil Sander, The Row, and Prada have designed some of my all-time favorite iterations. Whether you’re looking for an everyday bag, something to wear to a socially-distanced party, or a statement piece, the versatility of this iconic accessory ticks off everything on your bucket list.