I bought my first backpack when I was 28–years after graduating from college–splurging on the then-überhip black nylon version from Prada, which became a cult accessory of sorts  and put the company on the global fashion map.

Prada backpackNow the backpack as fashion accessory is back in a big way. And why not? Style guru Jacqui Stafford told me, “They are ideal to carry everything you need, but hands-free. The newest styles come in butter-soft leathers and a variety of colors.” And, she says, “Look for (bag) styles with top-handle straps that can be converted to backpacks.”

Every major (and minor) fashion house has come out with their own version. And along with nude nails (another trend this fall), you’ll see backpacks in all shapes and sizes featured in top fall fashion magazines.

Even though I still have my vintage Prada, newer versions are vastly improved. Most do double (and sometimes triple) duty, converting from functional backpack to chic handbag in seconds. And whenever we can squeeze several great looks from one cool bag, I’m in!

If the back-to-school vibe has you contemplating backpacks, here are a few possibilities.

The travel backpack. These are the ideal road companion, leaving your hands free to tow a wheeled bag or clutch that precious cup of coffee. Consider one that doubles as a tote bag, with long straps that fit comfortably over the shoulder when backpackthe other straps are tucked away. Extra credit for finding one equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) blocking to protect your credit cards and passport from identify theft, like the one pictured on Alamome from TravelSmith. The cobalt blue is a welcome break from basic black — so much so that my daughter has been begging to “borrow” this model when school starts next week.

Another cool option: the Jetsetter Convertible Backpack from Henri Bendel, which sees triple duty as a backpack, tote or cross-body. It comes in five colors and can be monogrammed, too. Reality star Jamie Chung was spotted carrying one  on the streets of L.A. recently. JamieChungHenriBendelbag

Zara PackpackThe ladylike backpack. Not until I came across the Ladylike Backpack from Zara did I think I’d ever say “Grace Kelly” and “backpack” in the same breath. Ordinarily it’s a simple, structured go-anywhere bag; remove the straps to accentuate its gold hardware, and it becomes an intriguing accent to a job interview or a night on the town. Other pretty options include the Love Backpack by Rebecca Minkoff — its chain straps will be trendy this fall — or the faux-leather Smart Front Bar Backpack from ASOS.ASOS Satchel backpack

The satchel backpack. The rectangular shape (horizontal or vertical) of a satchel bag makes it look more like a business briefcase than a traditional backpack. Looking for a cool work bag that you can hold in your hand or carry on your back? The Satchel Backpack at left, from ASOS, is a steal; it also comes in black.

The traditional backpack. If you’re a purist when it comes to fashion in general or backpacks in particular, opt for a traditional model like my Prada, or perhaps one of the Calvin Klein bags I spotted on a recent trip to a department store. And you who says you can’t look cool with a good old reliable JanSport?

For more lifestyle tips, please check out my Best of Everything After 50

Photos: Barbara Hannah Grufferman, PolyvoreASOS, Sarah Jaye Weiss

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