In the early 20th century, a man’s briefcase was an indispensable bit of kit. Briefcases may have started as document holders for the legal profession, but pretty soon they became a symbol of style, sophistication and white collar success. Briefcase meant businessman, and businessman meant briefcase. It was part of the uniform, like a Trilby and umbrella.
These days, briefcases are rarer, and the category bleeds over slightly into laptop bags, portfolios and sleeves. But they’re still arguably the sharpest and sleekest work bag a man can carry. Briefcases won’t be suitable for every situation – carrying a crisp leather briefcase to your first day as a barista is a bit of a weird power move – but for corporate environments, they’re still the ultimate style symbol.
Here’s our ultimate guide to modern men’s briefcases.
What are briefcases?
Briefcases technically go all the way back to Roman times, although leather bags back then were pretty simple. What we know as briefcases originated in the 14th century and were used to store valuables. Back then they were known as ‘budgets’ (from the Latin word ‘bulga’, for pouch). The more structured briefcase, with its iconic rectangular shape, goes back to 1826, when Godillot of Paris inserted an iron frame into a carpet bag. Then came the ‘Gladstone’ bag and the famous ‘Rosebery’.
Technically a briefcase is any hand-held men’s satchel. They’re usually made from leather, and modern briefcases have more or less done away with the bulky, box-like shape you see in 1980s Wall Street movies. Contemporary men’s briefcases are slim-line, sleek and lightweight. Perfect for the commuter on the go.
Benefits of a briefcase
Why carry a briefcase over a satchel or cross-body bag? First, it looks sharper. Secondly, it won’t wrinkle or damage your suit. Men’s briefcases are still white collar bags, and they lean heavily towards the corporate, more formal end of the spectrum. In other words, they work best with a suit and tie, or at least chinos and a knit blazer. Briefcases also tend to be more structured, so their shape will better protect flat objects like documents, tablets and laptops. Of course, the downside with a briefcase is that it takes up one of your hands. Not a big deal, but if you’re commuting by bike, the traditional folio briefcase probably isn’t for you (you want a hybrid like the CASSIAN instead).
Types of briefcase
Briefcases come in three main styles: portfolios (slimmer designs with one or two pockets, basically laptop sleeves), folios (larger and sturdier, usually with a handle) and structured (old-fashioned briefcases with a folding lid). There are also ‘attaché’ cases, which are the old-school, box-like briefcases with a solid leather shell. You don’t see attaché cases much anymore; most guys these days favour something slimmer, lighter and more discreet.
If you’re looking for a slim-line folio briefcase, something like the MONTORO SLIM is the way to go. It’s not too bulky, and it can carry a 15-inch laptop or tablet. The handles fold down, too, creating more of a portfolio silhouette. For something a bit more rugged and flexible, try the CASSIAN briefcase. It’s got an over-the-shoulder strap, so it can be worn like a satchel, and there are plenty of pockets for storing documents, valuables and tablets. Lastly, our classic MONTORO briefcase is your traditional folio briefcase, with a little extra depth (8cm) and a classy finish of soft, tumbled leather.
Styling a briefcase
As we’ve already said, men’s leather briefcases work best with a suit, or suiting separates. A lightweight folio briefcase can work as a laptop sleeve in a more casual office, but generally speaking, briefcases are still the corporate bag of choice. Styling them is fairly simple. The main trick is to colour-match your leather accessories. If you’re wearing brown Derbies, for example, you want a brown briefcase to match. Black Oxfords? Black briefcase. Give a little thought to texture as well. A traditional three-piece suit will favour old-school tumbled leather. For something more contemporary, the modern stitching and shoulder strap of the CASSIAN is the way to go.
Last tip, don’t overstuff your briefcase, especially if it’s a slimline portfolio. It should carry your laptop and tablet, some loose sheets of paper, a couple of business cards, and not much else. Briefcases are not for your sandwiches, snacks or stashing bulky clothes. Not only will you stretch out the leather, but you’ll also ruin the sleek silhouette, which is the whole point of carrying a briefcase.
Men’s leather briefcases need the same care and attention as all your leather accessories. But they will age more slowly than, say, a pair of leather boots. Treat your briefcase with a weatherproof spray every few months, and give it a polish a couple of times a year. Keep an eye out for any spots of wear, too. They often appear at the corners, or high-use areas like the zips and pockets. If you see these spots developing, try rotating your bags to extend their lifespan, or carrying your accessories in a different pocket. Phones are notorious for shaping and marking the leather, especially in slimmer bags, so watch out for that one.