Of all the things we cover in the ‘How great things age’ series, a bag such as this probably has the most potential – because it is made of canvas, leather and brass.
All those three materials age differently.
Brass, presuming it’s not coated, will tarnish at the edges where it isn’t touched, and get sharp highlights where it is – on the edge of a zipper, on the top of a stud.
Leather, when veg-tanned and stuffed with oils like this bridle, darkens but also cracks on the surface, exposing the lighter layer underneath.
It also moulds – the handle of this bag is wrapped in a strip of leather that has been the shape of my hand for years, and makes fastening the two sides feel like something it actually wants to do.
And lastly canvas. Canvas gets dirty (but can largely be scrubbed clean) and then slowly wears down, thinning, fraying and finally wearing through. But then of course it can be repaired, and in some ways looks better for it.
I’ve had this Filson briefcase for about seven years, but didn’t buy it new. Much as I adore all of these signs of ageing, I wouldn’t use a bag like this enough to cause this degree of wear.
But, it has worn more since I’ve used it. The handles have moulded, as mentioned, and it’s required a couple of good cleans. It might not have been mine to start with, but I feel I’ve given it a good home, kept it going when someone else had no use for it, and gone some way to making it my own.
I know there were some people who saw elitism in the English Country House Look we discussed on PS recently. But most understood the central lesson – that there is a dignity in great things worn to ruin, and a particular style in mixing those with luxurious, newer items.
That’s why I love carrying a bag like this with, for example, a fine suede jacket. The latter is more luxe and not designed to age in the same way, but it’s leant a sense of authenticity by its heavily aged companion. Perhaps it brings the fine suede down to earth.
Other combinations in this vein could be vintage jeans with a cashmere camel coat, or frayed tennis shoes with drapey linen trousers. It’s a species of high/low dressing, but to my mind not as obvious or obviously deliberate. Which also makes it less risky.
You do still need to keep an eye on formality – I wouldn’t carry this bag with a navy overcoat, or probably a double-breasted suit – but it’s not hard to get a sense of what makes for pleasing contrast.
OK, back to the bag.
As I said, I’ve had it for about seven years, and have carried it everywhere. The volume of compartments is extraordinary – it will hide a laptop in the back slot while overnight gear (a washbag, a T-shirt, some fresh underwear) expands the middle section to its limit.
It also has that crucial modern element – an outside compartment on the back.
We use our phones, headphones and other things so often these days, that it becomes frustrating if you have to undo the flap of a bag to access them each time. I’m sure that’s one reason tote bags have become popular.
So a discrete flap on the back allows you to drop your phone or wallet in there, and get it out quickly at the turnstile for a train, or when it pings with yet another message.
I’m actually having a beautiful Barenia briefcase made with the Swiss craftsman Peter Nitz at the moment, and I realise now it’s something I should have asked for. It’s particularly useful on a more formal briefcase like that, where you need two hands to open it.
Filson still sells this style of bag, or pretty close. It’s now called the Padded Computer Bag and has an added foam-padded section.
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be available on the European web shop, only the US one, which perhaps reflects that Filson uses a licensee – WP Lavori – to run the European side. More significantly, the repairs service is also not explicitly offered through this site, though I’m told bags can still be sent to the US for repair.
I feel this is significant because back when I bought the bag, repairs and longevity were a big part of Filson’s marketing. When I interviewed then President Gray Madden back in 2015 at Pitti (above), the stand was full of old bags as well as new – putting their history but also their repairs front and centre.
The shop on London’s Newburgh Street (which soon became two) also sold second-hand, repaired bags alongside new ones. Both those shops have since closed, and there have been reports about various parts of their US production shutting down or cutting staff in recent years.
I really hope this side of the business can survive. Although not inevitable, it’s much less likely that repairs will be offered if production moves outside of the US. I can’t think of any large brand that offers it from Asia, but several, such as Barbour and Mulberry, do in the UK.
Of course, the best way to help that kind of service survive is to patronise it, to demonstrate the demand. Hopefully articles like this – showing how attractive ageing can be, as well as publicising the brands that enable it – help a little as well.
I think this kind of canvas bag is great option for a guy today that doesn’t work in a suit every day.
It can still work with a suit – in the slightly absent-minded way a battered Barbour does – but its natural home is with the man who is more likely to wear chinos and a shirt to work, with a knit or coat over the top when required. I think that accounts for the majority of professionals I know.
It also has a pleasing bulk, which is something I think some men forget about when picking a work bag. Smaller and thinner bags – including Filson’s Original Briefcase – can look a little dinky, particularly when carried by a larger guy.
The downside of a canvas bag is that it gets dirty, but it’s not the hardest or most time-consuming thing to scrub with soapy warm water every few months. In fact rather like polishing shoes, I think it makes you appreciate the thing, and produces a feeling that has something in common with the thrill of buying new.
Other clothes shown are the PS Herringbone Donegal coat, old Armoury chinos, and Alden Color 8 cordovan Norwegians.
Photography: Jamie Ferguson
Dear Simon, very nice article to read especially as I am on a train carrying exactly
the same bag. May I ask you how do you clean canvas on yours? The leather on mine also developed some cracks after years of use. I thought I will need to replace it eventually, but maybe it doesn’t affect is strength too much? Do you treat it with any oils? Thank you
I don’t treat the leather no, and it seems fine. There is a risk that if you oil it it can make it more delicate and likely to tear, so I’ve left it. But it might be worth asking or researching – I haven’t.
On the canvas, I use a brush and a little soap with warm water, and gently scrub in circles, before letting it dry.
Is this the same bag,Simon?I’m very tempted .
Yes it is, didn’t realise it was there on the EU site. I think the only difference is the padding, as far as I know
I’m frankly stunned that a hugely successful heritage brand such as Filson cannot profitably manufacture its bags in the US.
I understand that part of the problem is that, when you make a classic item so well, you can’t rely on planned obsolescence to keep customers coming back for what is essentially an identical product (I have a seven year old Filson zip tote that I use everyday and simply cannot imagine replacing it within the next decade).
Nevertheless, the bags certainly aren’t cheap and seem always to be sold out (particularly in the otter green), so I’m slightly chary of the claim that the US operation simply isn’t viable. It reminds me of LVC, which could have purchased the Cone Mills plant out of petty change, but instead offshored both its fabric supply and its manufacture. Certainly, if Filson shifted its operations out of the US, I’d never buy a another of their products again.
Sadly, in the last year or two they have already shifted most of their production outside the US, with the exception of the twill bags and a few other items. It’s really disappointing.
That is disappointing. One of the things that was great about Filson was that it was made in the USA. Do you know what country they are making some of their stuff now?
This Filson bag reminds me of my standard overnighter – a thirty-five-year-old Lands’ End tan canvas duffel bag, bought when new. It has worn like iron. Very capacious and can be filled with all sorts of things. While there is some fading here and there, and some nice patina, there is little direct fraying and no repairs made. That is amazing for its age, but then older Lands’ End bags and cases (I have several of these canvas-and-leather briefcases from them) were of outstanding quality, the equal of anything else I have seen on the market.
I need to find a replacement for my old bag which was served me well over the years but has lost its water resistance and is becoming rather too tatty and you’ve convinced me. I am on the waiting list for both the Computer Bag and 24 Hour Tin Cloth Briefcase-either of which will do, it’s just a matter of extra carrying capacity with the former. Hopefully, one them will be available for a couple trips to and around Europe later this year.
Please may I take this opportunity to wish Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2, congratulations on her Platinum Jubilee and say thank you for 70 years of service to the UK, the commonwealth and the realm.
In keeping with the subject of this article- Her Majesty is the ultimate example of how great people age.
Hi Simon, could you provide more detail on how to clean the canvas – brush it with soapy water, that’s clear, but do you then just keep brushing with clear water or properly rinse it?
I used to have a Filson Original Briefcase, which already looks sleeker than your bag, but still at some point found the look too casual even with chinos. I have replaced it with a somewhat similar, but more elegant canvas bag from Danish brand Mismo (https://www.mismo.dk/collections/briefcases-minimal-danish-design-italian-canvas/products/m-s-endeavour-army-dark-brown). Let’s see how this one will age. My Filson duffles are still great as gym bags or weekenders, though.
I don’t rinse the canvas, no, but I only use a very little amount of soap. If the surface still feels slick at all then I would wipe again with a wet cloth
The London Filson shops are still sorely missed. Their hand knit cowichan jumpers amd cardigans gave RRL a run for their money, albeit in a different style. I don’t think they even offer those anymore at all.
An interesting piece about Filson and old bags. I have several Filson bags that are 40 or so years old. One has been repaired by Filson twice as it has had hard use. My favorite is an original tin cloth packer coat in thick material that I bought in the late 70’s. It has never been cleaned – and smells of wood smoke, and is so stiff still that I sometimes put it in the dryer to soften up before wearing. Filson makes expensive products that do last, and last.
What I am fascinated by, however, is the disjunction between the imagery in the Filson catalogue and the actual people that buy their products. The catalogue features working men (and now women) as fishermen, loggers, (west coast settings) with the bags covered in mud, the shirts well worn and dirty. And yet their stores in cities like Boston or New York clearly cater to urban, more affluent shoppers. I have always doubted whether the men shown in their catalogue would actually buy the things they advertise – or would, in fact, use Carhartt at much less the cost. I believe this disjuncture is the root cause of Filson’s dilemma: how to appeal to the urban dweller (like yourself) who craves “patina,” and the rugged look yet at an affordable price. Many similar brands have had the same dilemma and have succumbed to lesser quality and lower prices – think Eddie Bauer or especially L L Bean. And have had, like Filson is in the process of doing, to outsource their products.
Filson’s stores now have a separate room stocked with used bags – that are well worn for that “hard used look” – and are not cheap. This is partly because the canvas used was thicker than that used in their newer products.
So patina “earned” must begin with a very good, well made product. Patina “bought” can be second hand but seldom can be earned with an originally poorly made item. And in today’s market, the lower costs demanded always favor the lesser quality.
There are other makers of bags – Duluth Packs is one, that originally made just canoe packs of very heavy canvas but today make all sorts of bags and purses for a far larger market.
Please keep writing about these favorite bags, the search for authenticity, and the juxtaposition of old and used with new and formal. It is a wonderful discussion.
Thanks Jack, and completely agree on the quality point. Hopefully each article like this helps people understand the difference and pay a little bit more.
I’m pleased Filson still sell second-hand bags in shops, even if expensive, and even if the London ones have closed
Great series of articles, thanks Simon
For a UK made alternative I’d suggest having a look at Billingham camera bags.
They are, naturally, made for a different purpose, but older versions had a heavy duty canvas and leather construction which aged beautifully. They have a variety of styles and are roomy enough for a weekend or overnight trip.
While bombproof, they offer a great repair service.
Thanks Mark. I’d also chuck in Bennett Winch as making the best modern-styled equivalent of lots of these bags. Not quite the same weight of canvas or oiled leather, but great materials nonetheless, including the brass.
I’m reminded that up in the loft is my late father’s canvas and leather holdall, issued to him when he joined the Royal Navy during WWll. I used it when hitch hiking between home and university back in the 60s and for trips abroad in the 70s. I retired it when cases with wheels came onto the market.
Sounds nice Thorn. Worth getting out now and again if travelling by car perhaps?
This could be what is known as a Pussars Grip. I have two vintage ones and one of them is used weekly as my luggage when working as a tour guide.
I own a Filson original briefcase. One of the complaints I have is the razor like zipper. It will scratch up your laptop or snag clothing if you are not careful. And I wish the zipper would zip farther down the sides. Also, I use it with a suit. I do not think it looks out of place, but, it may be too casual for some. But, I don’t care. And I do not think it would dinky unless you are a very large man. So, I disagree with Simon on that point.
Filson seem to have outsourced a lot of the outerwear, but the Mackinaw wool lines are all still US made and I highly recommend them not because the lumberjack look is iconic, but because they’re close to waterproof save in the worst of downpours and the wool field trousers in particular keep you warm even when it’s well below freezing and there’s a nasty wind. You don’t even need a base layer if you don’t mind the rather abrasive heavy wool.
Thanks Michael, I haven’t tried those.
I’ve been looking for a bag made of sail cloth. Really tricky to track down nowadays.I recall there were a few manufacturers in the West Country, but can’t for the life of me remember them.
Im sure readers will chip in if they’ve heard of any Peter
Peter, have a look at TheOldSaltLoft.com
Take a look at Resails. They’re based in Newport, Rhode Island (a great sailing town) but not sure about U.K. availability. They use old recycled sails to make their bags.
Thanks. I will take a look.
I swear by my made-in-Seattle Filson otter green tote bag. It’s the perfect size that I use it to lug everything from my gym gear to my groceries to my text books…I carry bring it with me almost every day….not embarrassed to call it my man purse 🙂 Like my raw denim jeans, it’s developed a nice patina over the years.
I’m tempted.. as with most stuff you write about. however… 500£. I understand craftsmanship, ages better and all that… but even you mention, you wouldn’t use this bag to the extent to wear it out.
so it’s probably silly, but… back in 2014 I got a puma duffle bag. for 30£. a lot of use, but I still haven’t worn it down.
so purely from usability/durability point of view.. why should I pay nearly 20 times more? it’s not like I need this bag to last for 100 years .. so is it for tactile feeling and patina?
I do “want” a little bit smarter duffle.. but whenever I look at the prices…
Martins, it’s about everything we talk about here – the way good materials age. Your Puma duffle will be made out of a plastic or a cheap canvas that won’t wear in the same way, with cheap hardware and cheap leather. If you like these things, it’s worth it. If you don’t, you can stick with your Puma. Like good shoes, a bag like this looks better than a cheaper one on day one, and then only looks better and better as it gets older.
When I said it won’t get this kind of use, that’s partly because I have lots of bags. If you only have one, as it sounds like you would, then it would get some of the same ageing.
£500 is a lot of money, but not if it’s something you use almost every day. What else you own falls into that category? A watch perhaps? Certainly not a suit or any other item of clothing.
on one hand I of course understand all that. however on the other hand, I’m fairly certain at least for a couple years id be afraid to actually use this bag the way I want to use a bag…
I have a tendency to baby expensive stuff for quite a while. have you never been afraid (?) to actually use the stuff you paid whats a lot of money for you? you know, first scuff on a toe of expensive shoe so mirror shine Is not perfect anymore?
it’s probably another silly question… how does sides of leather shoulder straps and handles look like after so much wear? you did mention cracking, and what put me off cheaper leather shoulder straps was sides cracking.
I think you definitely need to get over that with something like this which is built for wear Martins. A superfine worsted suit, sure, I understand, or a silk tie. But a bag like this is deliberately made to be treated roughly.
On the straps, my point was there are little visible cracks but they don’t make any difference to the hardiness – and haven’t changed at all in years or wear. But that doesn’t mean they’re the same as cheaper leathers that crack
actually I need to come back and say I think you might be right. I saw an old and worn bag with completely tattered leather handles, all patinated canvas, and even at that point canvas was still STIFF! I’m fairly certain it might have been filson bag. now I’m still not sure if the bag is worth 700£, or 20% price rise since last batch is warranted, but I’m seriously considering them now!
I have a different briefcase but a slightly relevant point on this topic.
About 5 years ago, I splurged and bought a Hermes sac a depeche briefcase. This was an upgrade from a standard Tumi.
For a while, I was absolutely afraid to have it get a scratch. For example, I wouldn’t place it on the ground, a sidewalk, etc. I went by a Hermes store when purchasing a tie and the sales clerk complimented me on the briefcase and I remarked that I love it but am afraid to have it get wet or get a scratch. She responded by saying “it’s not made of paper.” (Not to mention that they will service the briefcase.)
That comment stuck with me and since then I have treated the briefcase the same way I treated my prior one which isn’t to say I leave it out during a rainstorm or toss it out of a taxi.
While the bag didn’t get much use during WFH times during Covid, I get significant enjoyment from this briefcase. And the license to actually use the bag has contributed to that. And consistent with this article, I actually like it more having been “aged” rather than looking pristine and like it has never been touched.
I recently threw out a Filson tote that I bought in 2005. Too worn out, holes and too bad condition. I do wish I had sent it in for repairs. But at the time I didn’t see them advertising the option anymore.
I do wonder if the longer bridle leather straps would have been worth repurposing.
I also have a Filson briefcase which is older, but doesn’t get much use. So it looks basically new.
I am a long time fan of canvas bags. Filson is great but can be a bit too casual for every situation.
I’ve carried a green canvas Battenkill briefcase from Orvis for many years and it has never failed to draw compliments. Mission Mercantile makes some excellent canvas products as well.
That Filson reminds me of this from the armoury- https://thearmoury.com/products/the-armoury-x-porter-travellers-briefcase?variant=12153573998663
Have you seen that in person and if so would you say that armoury porter one is more formal given the material?
As you pointed out, the filson is a tad too casual for a suit so wondering if the armoury one is smart enough?
It is smarter I guess, but to be honest I don’t get the appeal of nylon. It doesn’t have any of the character of this bag or anything made out of a natural material. I’d get a leather one instead – see here for bags I personally prefer
For me, the appeal of nylon is it’s very lightweight yet still really hardwearing. I have a Tumi briefcase that I’ve used for travel for 20 years. I have a Filson bag too that’s the same age. It looks better and has tons more character, but it’s heavier and doesn’t hold as much. For hard duty traveling through airports I prefer the Tumi.
Yes absolutely, I can see that. I guess I always want something with some character though, I’m return for a little more weight.
It’s a lovely bag Simon. I can’t help but feel that this article series serves to pursued me to buy products, most of which are no-longer for sale!
I did see the version with a padded section. I’m afraid I’m put off by that sort of thing. I can’t be convinced that foam padding ages well.
That bag has aged wonderfully. I have a couple of canvas and leather holdalls known as Pussars Grips ( originally distributed by Pursars on RN boats) that have aged in a similar way. The only criticism I have of the Filson is that they are quite heavy even when empty. I sold mine for this reason.
Apologies a bit late coming to this post with a general question on how great things age.
I am thinking of buying an M1951 Parka. The Real McCoy’s sell one that fits similar (I believe) to the original so appears a high quality faithful reproduction. I am comparing to a Fishtails Parka company version- (that has good reviews) which on the face of it doesn’t seem significantly different. Aside from the cost per wear point, I’d be grateful for any views on your part if you have seen Real McCoy’s parka’s and / or generally.
I posted here as this was not really at all relevant to todays post!
No worries Stephen. I probably can’t help I’m afraid, as I haven’t tried either of those.
I can say I’m very sure the McCoys will be superior in some ways, but it’s hard to tell those without details on them, or to know whether you’re willing to pay that for them.
Also, I would always prefer a vintage one, but that’s because I like the character so much. And any new one won’t have that for years
Thank you Simon. I’ll probably go with The RMs. Better to spend a bit more rather that waste what you do spend.
These articles are so important. They should be converted into an advertising or PR campaign targeted at everyone to fight the textile waste problem. We are so used to only seeing clothes that have never been worn in brand advertising, editorial fashion shots, and social media that we have forgotten that is completely ok that clothes look aged.
Pleased you think so Jonas. Do spread around as much as you like to
I really love (is it possible?) the look of Filson canvas duffle bags, toilet bag and also briefcase. I bought my first in Malta when it was sale and have a lot of them today. The function: it´s often to heavy, the duffles has a stupid opening and som other odd things. My last, in cordura nylon, is very practical (light) form of suitcase/ cabin bag but no patina etc. But I´m hooked so I bought it. I would like to have a tote bag in canvas…
How do you find the weight? I have one and with a few things in including laptop I find it quite unwieldy
It’s definitely heavier, but to be honest I’ve found over the years that I really don’t mind a little more weight. I’d much rather have that than have to sacrifice the look and feel, and go for nylon for instance.
But I might feel differently if I was walking half an hour to work every day, or travelling frequently with it.
I could have sworn it was 500£. checked it today, 630. so that’s another thing to cross off my list.
can I ask, maybe you have handled filson tin cloth bags? I’m picking between 2 of them or your tote for next year purchase. I like the design of one, but it’s a tin cloth, other design I like less but it’s rugged twill.
I’ve read that tin cloth is basically thick vaxed cotton, and I “think” I saw old rugged twill bag in person and loved the material.
I’m still unsure about your tote. on one hand, material is lovely and I’ve never been disappointed in PS stuff, but on the other hand, it’s a tote, it’s borderline too tall for me and I haven’t seen brown colour in person…
I’d say style is the major difference there Martins – the PS one is much smarter and more luxurious than a Filson tin cloth bag
yeah I figured that for filson Vs yours…
but what about tin cloth Vs rugged twill?
also… any ideas about duffle/sports bag with 270* zipper on top? filson Duffles look nice, but I’m so used to 270* opening, I kind of feel overstuffed duffle with “normal” zip would be uncomfortable..
p.s. I’m talking about zip on top like this https://uk.filson.eu/collections/bags-luggage/products/filson-man-heritage-sportsman-bag-fmbag0019w0174-281
I haven’t tried both on the material, so hard to say I’m afraid Martins
On the opening, to be honest I think that sounds a little too fussy – I’m sure you’ll get used to either
You wrote you had both. In “10 bags over 10 years” bag number 3 was filson tin cloth original briefcase. Thats why i was asking for a comparison… but its probably too old article to remember.
In that case I misspoke in the original article Martins. I’m talking about the same bag in both
Just unpacked same bag as in here. My girlfriends reaction was, how heavy it is! Mine, its a bit taller but a bit slimmer than expected! And so many pockets!
Colour is darker than on filson store pictures. Like a very casual khaki. As much as your pictures sometimes feel too edited to understand how piece will look in reality, here color is much closer.
Only 2 things i dont like about the bag. Zippers feel really sharp. At least at the moment, its really annoying to use leather strap to wrap handles. But im assuming it will mold over time.
Also when the bag says, “padded”. But here is so little padding, i dont think any laptop would be protected if bag slips out of my hand,
The brown suede tote is amazing. I’ve all but abandoned all the other bags I own and just use this – and it’s very hard wearing. You won’t regret it. I don’t actually see it as that smart, even though i use it for the office and think nothing about taking it to client meetings. Equally, it’s luxurious but not delicate – it’s a bag made to be used.
I’m here in the states, and to my knowledge, Filson is still currently running strong!