Few pieces in the male wardrobe slog harder than a work bag. We all need to get our lunch/laptop/stolen documents for Wikileaks to and from the office every day, so the right bag is the colleague you can actually rely on.
When it comes to selecting a style of bag for the 9-5, briefcases are functional, stylish, classic and, somehow, all too often overlooked.
Once attached to the hand of every businessman worth his pay packet, the hard-sided case fell out of favour with the turn of the millennium, as a result of a move towards more relaxed dress codes and the rise of business-casual dress.
Now, however, it’s been given the attention of brands ranging from the high street to the high-end, and the carrier is back, looking a world apart from the Chancellor’s Budget Box.
Thanks to a renewed approach to design and modern materials like supple leathers and waterproof canvas, it’s now possible to carry a briefcase without looking stiff.
History Of The Briefcase
The origins of this sophisticated receptacle can be traced back to the 14th century, when early versions made from cloth were used to transport money and valuables. But it wasn’t until the 1820s, when Parisian manufacturer Godillot produced a carpet bag with an iron frame, that the traditional briefcase would take shape.
This style was later adopted by lawyers, who used the structured box to cart important documents to and from court, giving the bag its name.
These days, the briefcase is an astute choice even for non-businessmen and lawyer folk. Capable of (safely) transporting laptops, tablets and other various essentials, start using one and you will likely become a convert.
What To Look For In A Briefcase
Before you rush out and drop this month’s rent on a new bag, it makes sense to swot up on what it is you should be looking for.
“A briefcase should be functional, smart and timeless,” says Johnny Coca, creative director of luxury luggage label Mulberry. Keep that in mind when shopping for one and you’ll come away with something that lasts years rather than months.
It’s also worth being aware of the different types of briefcase available, a choice that will be influenced largely by what you use it for.
“This is a document folio that features a single main compartment, a handle and can store a small laptop plus a few documents,” says Coca.
A minimalist piece of office kit, the sleek, compact body is almost exclusively cut from leather and typically features collapsible top handles.
“A folio case is a single or double document holder for the everyday formalities, which includes a strap and is a bit roomier,” says Coca.
This type of case makes a good all-rounder, capable of stowing slightly more than the bare essentials.
Sometimes known as a diplomat’s case, this is the older, box-style case that you’d see in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (or handcuffed to the wrist of a henchman in a Bond film).
Those references perhaps explain why they’re not really en vogue right now, but if your everyday carry is bulkier than most, there’s no denying their practicality.
The Best Men’s Briefcase Brands
A relative newcomer to the party, London-based leather firm Aspinal was founded in 2000. However, what it lacks in history, the brand more than compensates for in quality and craftsmanship.
Briefcases are just one of the things on Aspinal’s CV, but it’s a prominent one, cut from the finest Italian calf leather and finished with features such as a built-in charger for smartphones.
As one of the leading names in UK retail, John Lewis has been a go-to for over 150 years. Known and relied upon for the quality and reliability of its office wear, it stands to reason that the brand does a good line in briefcases.
An excellent mid-range option, the firm’s designers use real leather in a range of colourways to turn out handsome men’s bags that are not short on storage.
Anyone who’s ever been within earshot of a woman before will know how significant Mulberry is within the world of handbags. But it’s not just ladies’ luggage that the label excels in – the British firm also has one foot firmly in the men’s arena, too.
If quality is a priority, Mulberry’s briefcases are some of the finest money can buy. Look out for textured leathers, luxurious finishing touches and sleek branding, plus all the practicality you need Monday to Friday.
If ever there was proof that briefcases have moved on from their stiff beginnings it’s Danish brand Mismo. Offering a small collection of men’s luggage, rendered in both leather and waterproof Italian cotton canvas, Mismo’s approach to design is all about reinventing the classics.
The label’s range of coloured fabric briefcases expertly straddles the line between contemporary and classic, with a pliable body and premium brass hardware.
Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer has long been a byword for no-nonsense, classic British styling. A dab hand at anything rendered in leather, be it shoes or coats, its briefcases do nothing to undermine that reputation.
For smart options in soft pebble-grain leathers that add a tactile edge to a suited look, this high-street stalwart is second to none. And about as affordable as they come at this quality.
At the sartorial junction where high-end quality meets high-street convenience, you’ll find premium retailer Reiss. Having led the way in design-orientated menswear since 1971, the firm is now a highly-respected name in the world of style.
Its briefcases may be cut with a sleeker profile than most to give them a contemporary look, but they’re not short of space, with additional zip pockets both inside and out.
Want Les Essentiels
Founded by twins Dexter and Byron Peart, Montreal-based label Want Les Essentiels draws inspiration from mid-century architecture and furniture design and applies it to luxury luggage.
The result is a collection of timeless pieces that are produced to the highest of standards and are both stylish and durable enough to last you several rungs on the career ladder.
Alfred Dunhill’s briefcases may be slightly – okay, a lot – pricier than most others, but you’ve only got to take one look at them to understand why.
The Dunhill name is steeped in history, and ever since its eponymous founder inherited his father’s saddlery business in 1893, has been producing some of the finest leather goods in London. Luxury touches in the range include lock and key fastening or solid silver components. As an investment piece, it can’t be beaten.
Knomo was founded in 2004 with a mission to produce bags designed for 21st-century living. Taking a look at its briefcases, we’d be inclined to say they’ve succeeded.
Visual appeal aside, its models come packing high-tech design features such as an RFID signal blocker lining, padded technology sections and a unique trackable ID. Just in case you really are carrying sensitive documents.
Ted Baker entered the menswear world designing shirts and quickly gained a reputation for its individuality and quirky detailing. However, the British label takes a more stripped-back design approach when it comes to its range of briefcases.
Classically styled with modern details and finishing touches such as contrast linings, what more could a discerning gentleman want from his bag?
Hugo Boss has long been one of the leading names in premium menswear, famed for its sharp, sleek designs and typically German attention to detail.
Things are no different in its line of men’s luggage. Expect to find classic silhouettes alongside more vibrant options, all punctuated with subtle contemporary details and embossed branding.
Formerly known as Oppermann, Carl Friedrik has been forging a name for itself as one of the finest purveyors of modern luxury leather goods since 2012.
Founded by brothers Niklas and Mattis, the label’s briefcases typify its approach of using only the best tanneries and most skilled artisans. The results are modern bags that are set to become future classics.
For more than 120 years, Seattle-based brand Filson has been making products built for the great outdoors, which should give you confidence that its briefcases can handle the morning commute.
A solid alternative to slick leather versions, expect robust styling, heritage detailing and more compartments than you’ll know what to do with.
It’s quite possible that the phrase “classic with a twist” was coined purely to described Sir Paul Smith and what his namesake brand is all about.
When it comes to briefcases, you can be sure of the usual instantly recognisable design ethos, but without sacrificing a level of quality that comes from using premium fabrics and tried and tested manufacturing techniques.
Zara has made a name for itself as one of the global high street’s leading names. Thanks to a highly responsive supply chain, the Spanish retailer is always at the fore of what’s hot right now, and this is evident in its collection of contemporarily styled briefcases.
For style and value combined, it can’t be beaten. Expect up to the minute, trend-led designs alongside clean, fuss-free examples capable of stowing everything you need to boss the boardroom