I was first introduced to the garment bag when I received my uniforms from The Marine Shop.
For six years they faithfully protected my uniforms from dust, moths, and random tears associated with frequent change of duty station.
Then seven years ago I traded my dress blues in for business blues – going from boots to suits as I started my own company after business school at Texas. However the plastic garment bags my suits came with were not up for travel – and in fact, they looked embarrassing cheap and worse would not protect my clothing investment from rough handling.
However the plastic garment bags my suits came with were not up for travel – and in fact, they looked embarrassing cheap and worse would not protect my clothing investment from rough handling.
I needed a garment bag that could both handle the wear and tear of travel and look smart when I met potential clients in a hotel lobby with luggage in tow.
Today I use Blue Claw's Gooseneck Garment Bag – it's made in the USA from 1050 D Ballistic Nylon and accented with full grain leather and an over engineered zipper. I love this bag because it's built to last, is functional, and looks professional.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand how to buy a quality garment bag.
There is a lot of cheap crap out there – avoid this route as the last thing you want is to see at the airport luggage claim is your clothing all over the place followed by a taped up bag with nothing in it.
What Exactly Is A Garment Bag?
Garment hanger bags are the business traveler's upgrade from a hard-sided suitcases. They're designed to hold suits and shirts flat on hangers, rather than folded up inside a square compartment.
Your basic garment bag is long, flat, thin, and soft-sided. It looks like an overbuilt version of the hanger bags dry cleaners sometimes use to protect suits when they're ready for pick-up. Some versions keep the hook for the hangers inside the zippered interior, while others have a gap at the top for the hangers to poke out of, allowing you to loop a few fingers through them.
The idea is that you'll put your suits, shirts, and trousers on hangers just like you would in your closet. Then you “hang” them inside the bag, add shoes and other sundries in the empty space at the bottom, and carry the whole thing.
Some garment bags have handles at both sides and buckles or zippers that double the bag over, halving its length. This makes it more portable, but also folds the suits inside in half. However, since they're being bent over double as a bunch, rather than folded individually, there's less creasing than there would be if you folded each separate piece and laid it in a suitcase.
What's It For?
Garment bags are meant to be used in place of rectangular suitcases. They're longer than most suitcases but also much thinner and lighter, fitting within airline regulations for checked (but not oversized) baggage.
The advantage is primarily for the clothes: instead of being pressed flat with folds that will turn into creases, suits and shirts get treated much like they would in your closet. The outer layer protects them from other luggage, and inside the case they lie flat and unfolded.
Women also use hanger bags for much the same purpose, keeping long dresses laid flat during travel. Most bags are made for one person's wardrobe — don't plan on sharing unless you're going on a very short trip. It's hard to fit more than three or four suits or dresses in even the largest versions.
Garment bags can also be used for road travel, and in most cases will hang from the garment straps on the inside roof of a car. If your car lacks the straps, flat in the trunk or across the back seat works just fine as well.
Why You Should Own A Garment Bag
The garment bag is a purpose-specific tool: you want one if you're traveling with clothes that are stored on hangers.
If you never need to do that, it's not a very useful piece of equipment, but most men need to take a few good shirts and some decent trousers on the road with them at some point or another.
Garment bags are most vital when you're traveling for business and spare time is short — if you have days at a resort hotel to press your shirts (or even have them pressed for you), getting them there un-creased isn't a vital concern.
If, instead, you're getting off of a plane, checking into a hotel, and giving your performance a half-hour later, you need to know that your change of clothes is going to get there relatively unscathed.
Men who don't have much of a luggage collection also get the benefit of some added professionalism from a garment bag. The next-closest option for most of us is a duffel bag, which, while long enough to lay a suit and hanger out in is not built to retain the shape of your business clothing and is over-sized for the need.
How To Buy A Quality Garment Bag
Many companies make these bags, under many different names (garment bag, suit bag, hanger bag, gooseneck suitcase, etc.).
So what makes for a solid garment bag? Check for these details that show good construction:
- Material – The outside should be waterproofed nylon or canvas. Leather accents and handles add a nice professional touch and are more comfortable than thin nylon straps. Zippers should be big and tough, and you want to test them in the store to make sure they don't catch easily on their own liners (a common failing in cheap luggage).
- Color – Dark is perfect for business travel, and there's nothing wrong with it for personal travel, so always take the dark option. Black, navy blue, or dark gray are all fine. If you feel the need for something more sporty, try for a dark base color with light leather accents rather than a bright-colored nylon.
- Size – A small hanger bag can only fit one suit or jacket, limiting its usefulness to weekend trips at the most. Larger bags can fit a week's worth of clothes if you pack them smart. Use less hangers, and double or triple hand your clothing to get more into a garment bag. Also – avoid using large suit hangers and instead use round edge plastic hangers – at your hotel move them over to sturdier wooden ones with wider supports.
- Storage – Top notch bags will have built-in storage pouches for small items besides the clothes on hangers: slots for shoes, a small zippered compartment for toiletries, and so on. Don't get a bag that won't fit your socks and underwear along with your suits and shirts.
- Handles – It seems like a small thing, but the handles make a difference when you're hustling from one terminal to another one on the far side of a huge airport. Rounded leather doesn't dig in the way that rectangular nylon straps do. If the bag has a shoulder strap option, make sure it's long enough for your torso; the weight of the bag should be resting on your hips, not your back.
It's a rare man who won't find a use for a garment hanger bag at one point or another in his life. Spend a few hundred bucks to get a really good one and keep it in the closet for any trip that involves a jacket, suit, or even just nice trousers and shirts.
If you keep it on a hanger in your home, odds are the garment will travel better in a hanger bag than a suitcase. And that's more than enough reason to keep one handy.