Ask Belle: The Laptop/Work Bag Conundrum
Mar 5, 2012
I am constantly bombarded with emails, comments and tweets asking me for a stylish laptop bag/briefcase that will hold legal size files and a computer. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time someone asks me to conjure this magical bag from the ether, I’d be retired to a private island in the Caribbean where the only law would be a mandatory dress code. Finding such a bag presents numerous challenges, but I’ll just hit the high notes.
First off, any bag that’s going to be large enough to hold a 15″ laptop and 16″ legal files, plus essentials is going to be gigantic. It’s also going to use a lot of material and be incredibly heavy. This is the number one reason why most retailers never consider making such a bag, it wouldn’t be particularly cost effective and most women wouldn’t want a bag that weighs a lot on its own because once you fill it up, it will become positively unwieldy.
Secondly, for most women’s wear designers, especially handbag and shoe designers, functionality is an after thought. And if you care about aesthetics, you’re not going to design a bag big enough to hold all of a lawyer’s essentials unless you want to sell it in a set with a Sherpa and a yak.
Lastly, most of the bags made for functionality are designed with men in mind. So not only are they large and heavy, they’re tough and rugged and about as dainty as a lumberjack.
This is not to say that finding a fairly attractive, women’s work bag isn’t possible. They exist, but you need to be prepared to compromise. You will never find the perfect bag in the perfect price point. Either you’ll have to pay more than you intended, or you’ll have to cut back on the wish list.
Basically, this is my way of telling you that a laptop/work bag that is functional and stylish is an investment piece, and you will probably not be able to find one for less than $250. That’s why most law grads get one as a graduation gift.
Now that we all understand the challenges presented by finding such a bag, let’s talk about some solutions.
This is one of the widest bags that I found, at a generous 17″. It has a padded laptop compartment, two other compartments and the exterior pocket has an organizer to keep your Blackberry, pens, business cards and assorted items in place. It comes in red and black. It’s also easy on the eyes.
Years ago, Rebecca Minkoff made a great diaper bag called the Knocked Up Tote. It was also the greatest laptop/work bag known to mankind. Sadly, she stopped making it, nevertheless, the existence of this bag convinced me that leather and imitation leather diaper bags are an appropriate solution for the work bag conundrum.
This bag is 18″ wide and has a few internal pockets, but they’re shaped to hold baby bottles, so I’m not sure how much help they will be. It also doesn’t have a padded compartment, but you can pick up a padded laptop sleeve easy enough. Also, the bag is faux leather, but that keeps it light enough to carry. And the adjustable straps are a nice touch.
Other solutions to the laptop/work bag challenge include:
A wheeled case, like the ones pilots use. By no means ideal, but it’s not like you can leave the legal files at the office if you’re heading to court or a committee hearing. Just get a truly fabulous handbag to compensate.
A vintage leather briefcase. I was absolutely horrified by what they charge for new leather briefcases ($1,000-$2,500). So I thought, “Why not go vintage?”
They’re less expensive, and a bit rugged, but with a sense of style that’s tough to ignore. Plus, you can pick one up at a thrift store or on eBay for a fraction of the cost of buying new.
You can also pick up the ever popular Coach Beekman on eBay. Why the company ever stopped making this classic messenger style briefcase is really a mystery. I suppose they were too busy making those hideous, signature fabric patchwork monstrosities.
Alright, we have reached the outer boundary of my knowledge about briefcases. So, hopefully, some of my readers who work in the legal profession have some more suggestions.
Also, please don’t leave a comment about how these bags are great but they’re too expensive. As I said above, to find a stylish and professional bag for work essentials, you’re going to have to spend some money. This is one area where it is difficult to find a cheaper option, and to get something well made, I wouldn’t recommend a cheaper option. Truly, this type of bag is an investment piece, so save up and invest. Just make sure to buy something classic in a neutral color (grey, red, black or brown).