If you’ve ever shopped around for a new bag, browsed the handbag section of a store, or read up on accessory trends, odds are you’ve heard the term “hobo bag” more than once. One thing is for sure – hobo bags are having a well-earned moment. But what is a hobo bag? What does it look like? And why is it called that? Come with us as we take you on a brief journey through the history of the hobo bag and explain why it’s such a convenient, stylish, and versatile bag choice today. 

What is a hobo bag?

A hobo bag refers to a distinct style of handbag. They’re usually somewhat oversized, with a relaxed silhouette, and made from a soft fabric that allows them to give off a slouchy appearance.

Today, there are many versions of hobo bags, ranging from soft and casual to bright and flashy and everything in between. Here at American Leather Co., we prepare to keep our hobo bags fairly traditional, using only the best, softest, most durable leather and our signature expert craftsmanship to create pieces that pay homage to the timeless silhouette while keeping things cozy, modern, and practical.

What does a hobo bag look like?

Every type of leather purse silhouette is referred to by a specific name – a bum bag, a satchel, a crossbody bag, etc. They are defined and categorized by their unique shape and style. The same is true for the hobo bag.

While they can differ greatly in size, color, and aesthetic, all hobo bags have a few things in common. Hobo bags are crescent-shaped, with each end of the bag being attached to a strap that is sometimes (but not always) adjustable. This allows it to be worn either as a shoulder bag or a crossbody.

The hobo bag is usually large or oversized, allowing you to pack in lots of daily essentials where you’ll easily be able to access them while still looking chic and put together. Another defining trait of most hobo bags is the fact that they’re made, as mentioned above, of soft fabrics. This can be corduroy, cotton, luxurious genuine leather, or any other material that will give the bag a drapey, relaxed effect when worn.

Our Carrie black hobo bag is a perfect example of a smaller to mid-sized traditionally shaped hobo bag that feels both modern and classic at the same time. It’s this sort of piece, with its versatility, convenience, and durability, that makes it easy to understand why the hobo bag not only survived decades of fashion trends but also why it’s having a bright moment in the spotlight. It’s the kind of bag that can hang with you through any occasion and positively accentuate any outfit.

What is a hobo bag style?

As we’ve mentioned, the oversized, slouchy shape of the hobo bag lends itself to a cozy, casual, relaxed, effortlessly chic style. It’s the kind of bag that pairs beautifully with a long, flowy dress, playful espadrilles, and a fun summer hat for a warm night out.

However, this style looks equally as amazing with a more casual outfit, too. Take our Cobb large leather hobo bag in Soft Teal, for example. Pair this with white jeans, a light-colored long or short-sleeve t-shirt (French tucked, of course), simple sneakers, and delicate gold or silver jewelry for a look that says, “I look this good without even trying!” It’s a perfect look for running errands, dropping the kids off at school, or getting together for a casual afternoon drink with the girls.

But, at the end of the day, the best part of the “hobo bag style” is it can be whatever you want to make it. These bags will go with any trend and any style, allowing you to use a hobo bag to enhance your unique style rather than change it.

What does hobo bag mean?

Again, there’s no secret code regarding what qualifies as a hobo bag and what doesn’t. In general, if the bag is crescent-shaped, connected to a strap on each end, is large or oversized, and is made out of a soft and slouchy material, it’s a hobo.

Some bags are smaller than others, while some are slightly more structured and less slouchy. What makes the hobo bag so intriguing are the many qualities it can take on to make it ever so slightly different than all of its hobo bag counterparts. For example, one of our favorite, more structured hobo bags is our Avery hobo sling. While the bottom of this bag is a bit more structured and less crescent-shaped than most traditional hobo bags, the soft material and slouchy top still make it irresistibly hobo chic. Try it in vibrant Tandoori to liven up any ensemble.

Why is it called a hobo bag?

Many wonder how this iconic silhouette got its name. To truly explore that, we need to travel back in time just a bit. The first known usage of the word “hobo” was used at the end of the 19th century to describe American migrant workers. They often rode trains from city to city, looking for work. These individuals, often depicted carrying their belongings in a simple sack, inspired the hobo bag's unstructured shape and long, comfortable strap.

Over time, the hobo's sack evolved into a more stylized handbag, retaining its slouchy, unstructured shape and long strap for carrying over the shoulder. According to Vogue Magazine, the first official hobo cost just 35 cents when it was produced in 1936.

Fast forward nearly 90 years later, and the hobo bag is still going strong. They cost just a little bit more now, and there are many welcome variations and updates in style, but this is more or less where hobo bags – and their name – came from.

Browse our leather purses today to find the perfect hobo bag to add to your collection. And don’t forget to pick up some of our leather protectants to keep your bags cleaned, conditioned, and ready to tag along with you for many seasons to come.

October 27, 2023 — Christopher Leogrande