Later in the 90s, the backpack sifted through pop culture and came up on the other side, in the form of tiny leather backpacks worn by fashionable you
I saw someone mention them as a quintessentially 90s item. Oh hey, that's right! Everyone wore backpacks of one kind or another. And in the 2000s we all mysteriously stopped wearing them. (And started wearing messenger bags instead, but I digress.)
Backpacks tied in well with the early 90s grunge aesthetic. They were old school in the literal sense. The hippest backpack was the beat-up old model that you had in high school, perhaps repurposed for college textbooks. Perhaps repurposed to carry your poetry notebooks, your spare pair of Doc Martens, or your Pearl Jam tablature books.
Backpacks were a schlumpy and popular fashion choice for men and women alike. The 90s was a time of bulky, non-form-fitting clothes on both women and men. We longed to be asexual, hiding our awkward bodies from the world. Backpacks spoke to a certain frugal pragmatism: why buy a new bag when your school years backpack still works just fine? And they were eminently un-pretentious. Every workplace had at least one guy who used a backpack, when everyone else carried their stuff in a briefcase.
Of course, using a backpack like that was just a reverse form of snobbery, but who's counting?
Later in the 90s, the backpack sifted through pop culture and came up on the other side, in the form of tiny leather backpacks worn by fashionable young (and not so young) women. These backpacks were about the size of a wallet, and were inevitably made with black patent leather. Prada made a particularly expensive, and particularly coveted version.
Wherefore the tiny backpack? Surely one of the world's more ridiculous fashion crazes. I remember being puzzled by them even at the time. Why wear something so difficult to reach? And wasn't it basically just a fanny pack that rode high?
(Fanny packs - don't get me started! No one ever thought those were a good idea, but a certain subset of the population latched onto them and simply will not let go. To this very day, I can name the parent of a close friend who insists on wearing his fanny pack everywhere, to her eternal chagrin.)
Backpacks were phased out among hipsters at about the same time they became popular (in miniature leather form) with fashionistas. No coincidence, there. And when the fashionistas dumped their miniature leather backpacks a few seasons later (no surprise) it was pretty much the death of backpacks altogether. Except among hikers and campers, obviously!