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Ask Belle: Structured Bags for Work

Hi Belle:

I know you’ve covered work bags a few times on your site, but I really need some help.  I work in a very conservative environment and need a bag for carrying to meetings, conferences, etc.  I looked at the J. Crew Biennial but my worry is that it looks more like a big purse than a briefcase/tote, at least on my frame.  It really needs to look professional being carried around all day, not just in and out of the office.  What do you think?

Thank you! Heather

Professional women who are looking for a briefcase/laptop bag that has style and functionality face a an uphill battle.  Most fashion designers and fashionistas don’t live lives like we live, hauling files, computers and essentials to committee hearings, to court or on business trips.  And as a result there are very few options in the marketplace, and virtually no options in the under-$150 range.

Modalu Pippa Bag (195 pounds) // Lodis Brera Briefcase ($318) // Francine Leather Tote ($199) // Coach Legacy Carryall ($398 also comes in a large size)

If you want a professional work bag that will last for years, look for a leather bag with structure.  When you like at it in the store, zip and unzip the sippers and fasten and unfasten the buttons.  Well-made bags will have closures that move with ease. 

Also, look at the thread used in the stitching.  Is it frayed?  Does it look nice and thick?  Does it look secure?

Look inside the bag and examine the lining.  You want something that feels and looks durable.  No cheap, thin polyester or flimsy cotton. 

Lastly, examine the handles.  Is the stitching that holds them to the bag strong?  Are they superficially attached, are there flaps (like the Lodis) or do they extend into bag (as seen on the Coach)?  Handles and straps are where heavily-used purses usually fail, so examine them and determine if they look sturdy.

Do you ladies have a favorite structured work briefcase or bag to recommend?



  1. Jessica says:

    I bought the Coach Legacy in cobalt blue just last month to use for interviews because it comfortably fits all my purse items as well as file folders and I LOVE IT!

    If you were to use it as just a work bag, I think it would be great too – tons of pockets/compartments to “hide” personal items and a nice wide mouth to easily access everything. And the color is beautiful. I've also seen it in a pinky tomato red, yellow, black, and cordovan.

    Trust me. You will adore this bag.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. AD says:

    I'm watching eBay for a kate spade large vanston mary clare in natural.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  3. Anonymous says:

    Heather's question is a good one. I have a spin-off question that her question made me think of. Is there a structured bag (could carry laptop, files, magazines) that can work double time as a purse without looking either like too much of a laptop bag or too much of a purse – that is still work-appropriate? Is there a laptop-style structured bag that doesn't look like a laptop bag that could go from office to a night on the town or work when traveling for business? Thanks.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  4. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone own this Attache bag from J Crew? It's pricey but it is cute!

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  5. Stefanie R. says:

    Lo & Sons has a great bag – the Brookline. I think Belle has reviewed it before. It's amazing. I use it for work and for travel. It fits my legal files, a 15 inch laptop, a few magazines, etc. Also, it looks very professional and I've received quite a few compliments on it. Not cheap, but a worthy investment piece.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  6. Whitney says:

    Two thumbs up for the Pippa bag! After I saw it reviewed here, I trolled Ebay until I found a gently used one for sale (mine was $175 + shipping). It's the best, most versatile handbag I've ever owned. It will hold letter-sized file folders, ballet flats, an iPad…just a terrific all-around bag.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  7. kathryn says:

    Jack Georges bags are amazing – I had the Madison Avenue one for years until it finally wore out. It fits legal files and a 15″ laptop.

    I replaced it with a Hobo International bag that is slightly smaller but still fits a laptop and legal pad. It seems like it will hold up well, but its narrowness means it doesn't stand upright as well. I'd recommend the Jack Georges.

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  8. CH says:

    I second watching eBay for good deals on a (very gently used) work bag. It's also a great thing to ask for as a Christmas gift ­čÖé

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  9. JulieY says:

    very helpful post and comments!

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  10. carrie says:

    I like my Cole Haan medium village tote (via ebay). It fits a 13″ laptop, shoes, kindle, and lunch. The pebbled leather has worn really well and I love the two outside pockets that can fit a water bottle or a travel mug. I chose it because it looks more like a tote than a briefcase.

    I've never purchased one, but Levinger has some work/laptop bags. If the quality is anything like the folios, it should be good.

    I agree – so few options!

    October 10, 2012/Reply
  11. MX says:

    I use Kate Spade Grove Court Lainey. It can fit a computer, files, extra shoes and also has 2 zipper pockets for ipad/kindle/more files. I like it because it fits everything I need, but it isn't big enough for me to start accumulating a ton of unnecessary things. It is well structured, well made, and while it definitely has a work bag feel, I can easily use it for travel or if work turns into happy hour/an impromptu night out without feeling like I have an ugly work bag with me.

    October 11, 2012/Reply
  12. MX says:

    I would also add – Bag, Borrow, or Steal has great prices on gently used bags.

    October 11, 2012/Reply
  13. K says:

    Knomo London has excellent laptop bags that are still stylish. The company began designing laptop cases for men and has evolved into a full line of bags and luggage for both men and women. Almost every bag comes with some sort of laptop case or protective section. They have a great warranty and you can register the bag in case it is lost or stolen. Pippa Middleton is often seen with one of their cases.

    October 11, 2012/Reply