It started as a joke. In July of 2014, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the actor, former pro wrestler and hulk with a heart of gold, posted a self-mocking throwback photo on Instagram. There he was in all of his dated ’90s attire: a Steve Jobsian-black turtleneck, washed jeans and—slung around his waist—a brown leather fanny pack. A fanny pack on the Rock?! How absurd! Instantly, “Fanny Pack Rock” became a meme pinging about the internet.
The viral sensation reached a new peak when the Rock hosted “Saturday Night Live” last May: In promo photos, he gamely posed in an identical outfit, right down to the lookalike fanny pack at his waist. Sure, laughter ensued, but the fanny pack’s reputation was being transformed. Legitimately stylish people began to reevaluate the lumpen, pancreas-shaped bag, most typically seen tied to tourists in Bermuda shorts, ’80s ravers in Burning Man tie-dye or—most damning of all—your mom out for a jog. The fanny pack started showing up in luxe leathers and sleek nylons at designer labels such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton.
That came as a surprise, even to trend forecasters. “Fanny packs, or ‘waist bags’ as we now call them, are the fastest-growing segment in the men’s accessories market,” explained Marshal Cohen, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm. Between September 2016 and this September, sales of the category increased by over 10%, reaching $100 million.
Still, “Sir, direct me to your finest fanny packs!” is not a request you often hear in department stores. As one of the worst, most reviled fashion trends in history, explained Mr. Cohen, “the fanny pack took on a very ugly name” over the years.
So bag designers rebranded the pack. At Gucci, fanny packs are “belt bags.” Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton say “hip bag.” Japanese labels like Porter and WTaps, prefer “waist bag.” Kanye West’s Yeezy line refers to the pack as a “cross body.”
More palatable monikers aside, the question remains: What drove men to go back to this bag, so like a messenger bag crossbred with a colostomy bag? Most cite the convenience factor. “It’s so nice having everything in one place,” explained Ian Bradley, a New York City-based fashion stylist, adding, “I hate lumps and bumps in my jeans.”
He began wearing a fanny pack on set at photo shoots, close quarters where a backpack, or even a tote or a messenger bag could take out a light stand or an unsuspecting model. The compact, yet incomparably handy fanny pack was the answer. He got so used to having his wallet, iPhone 7+ (which, I know simply does not fit in most pant pockets) and keys in that one slender, sling bag that he began wearing it out on the streets.
Others talked up its comfort and ease. “When it’s hot, I don’t really want to be lugging around a [tote] bag or a backpack, and then when it’s cold, you want to keep your hands in your pockets,” explained Sam Lobban, the buying manager of men’s e-commerce platform, Mr Porter. Rather than worry about having the straps on a tote slip off his shoulders, or misplacing his iPhone in the abyss of a backpack, Mr. Lobban wears a fanny pack every day, and he’s buying into fanny packs in a big way for Mr Porter in the months to come, stocking options from Gucci, Prada and his personal favorite, Porter from Japan (no affiliation to Mr Porter).
His enthusiasm comes with a caveat: Mr. Lobban, like other well-appointed men sporting fanny packs today, doesn’t wear it around his waist, but slipped over his shoulder and under his arm with the pack itself against his chest, the way a pageant contestant sports a sash.
“It’s a masculinity thing—women usually wore it around their waist,” said Taylor Okata, a fashion stylist who picked up the fanny-pack habit as a kid in Hawaii. “I always wore it this way because that’s how my Asian father and uncles wore it.” Today, he has four Prada fanny packs that he rotates daily, but never, forbid the thought, straps around his waist.
Boundary-testing fashion designers are obsessed with “ugly” right now (see: steroided-out sneakers and suits the color of the Partridge Family’s shag carpet), but in most cases, a waist-worn fanny pack is a bridge too far. Slipped over the shoulder the way Rambo wore a ring of ammo, it’s that right pitch of wrong.
Face it, the fanny pack is still odd, even if you’re toting a cracked iPhone and Cool Ranch Doritos. Be a man and admit that it’s nice to have all those “essentials” (however you interpret that) just a pledge of allegiance away.
How would I know? Full disclosure: I am a fanny pack wearer.
My green Porter “waist bag” keeps my hands free. It fits whatever issue of “The New Yorker” I’m seven weeks behind on. It’s the perfect size for sneaking a bottle of water into the movies. And unlike a backpack, I never have to worry about checking it at a restaurant, or bowling over an unsuspecting kindergartener on the F train.
I’m reminded of what Mr. Lobban said about a recent encounter with Greg Chait, the designer of the Elder Statesman, a cashmere sweater label. Mr. Chait took one look at him and mockingly noted that Mr. Lobban was wearing his Porter fanny pack. “He was staring at me, wanting to giggle and I said, ‘It’s alright, you can giggle at me, I’m perfectly comfortable in my fanny pack.’” Same here, Sam. Though I’m still not comfortable enough slinging it around my waist. Sorry Dwayne.
Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com