What used to be an efficient device for lugging around a day's worth of textbooks has become an element of style.
With the introduction of the messenger and sling-style bags, combined with redesigned two-strap backpacks, backpacks are being customized for stylish and technological appeal.
"I don't use it for function, only for fashion," said Kathy Nawabi, a junior from Durham, of her messenger bag.
Nawabi's backpack is decorated with a colorful array of Chinese characters, symbol and pictures.
While the structure of her bag is common on campus, its Chinese print speaks louder than a typical messenger bag. "There are so many colors, so it matches with everything. It's kind of got a tacky quality to it," Nawabi said.
With only one strap, the popular messenger bags cross over the torso and land on one hip.
Sallie Fleckenstein, a sophomore from Statesville, said it was the dignified appearance of her messenger bag that lead to her purchase. "I think it looks a lot more professional," she said.
While her messenger bag does not hold many books, she said she has easy access to it on her hip. "They're convenient if you want to get something out," she said.
Also prevalent on campus is the sling bag - a one-strapped pack that sits diagonally across the back.
Sam Yellen, a junior from Raleigh who owns a sling bag, praised the new fashion statement.
"It's not as bulky as regular backpacks are, and you can fit a lot of stuff in them," Yellen said. "It also looks pretty cool, too."
But it's not all about appearance.
Students are also buying bags that carry their gizmos and gadgets.
So as people with cellular phones and CD players flood the Pit, and students prop open laptops in the quad's shade, today's bags have pockets, once used for pencils and pens, which now carry compartments for portable necessities.
The Gap sells a backpack called the Urban Laptop, which has multiple padded slots for different devices.
The two-strap pack features a main compartment with a cushioned divider for a laptop ideal for students carrying their ThinkPads alongside their textbooks.
The bag also has a padded CD player holder and an earphone-jack opening to make it easier for those who want a dose of DMX between their calculus and history classes.
Cheryl Honeycutt, manager of the Gap at 108 E. Franklin St., said the store's sling-style bag with its detachable cellular phone case was the company's most frequently sold accessory. "It's definitely more of an urban look. It's not really for textbooks," she said.
Although these bags might bring a versatile and new look to academics, some students find style does not guarantee comfort.
Messenger bags can be seen banging against students' hips and make for a heavy load on one shoulder.
"When I have a lot of books to carry, I'm like, `Oh, I'll just grab my (messenger) backpack,' but instead I end up carrying things in my hand," Nawabi said.
Fleckentstein confirmed the bag's impracticality."When you have a lot of books in them, they seem really heavy and hurt my shoulder."
And that difference could be unhealthy.
Bryan Smith, a physician at Student Health Service, said fashion-conscious students should keep an eye on the alignment and capacity of their bags.
"Over time, (messenger bags) can cause muscle fatigue and muscle strain," he said. "If the strap is aligned wrong and too narrow, the bag can compress nerves across the shoulder and cause numbness."
But students are willing to choose style over pain.
Despite the complications, messenger, sling and technology-ready backpacks have found their way to UNC, becoming one of the latest accessories.
Nawabi said, "Why ruin a perfectly good outfit with an ugly backpack?"
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