Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Work Briefcases and Bags

Hi Belle,

I’m writing today as an almost college graduate who is about to enter the world of job interviews. I want to purchase a nice bag or briefcase that will look professional but still be stylish. A briefcase makes me think of my grandfather, but is it a necessary evil of the professional world, or will a sophisticated tote suffice? Can’t wait for your response.

Thanks, Rachel

There are a number of options for professional bags.  You can choose a structured satchel, a tote, a laptop bag, or a traditional briefcase.  It simply depends on what you need to carry for your workday.  Here are some options.


Audrey Brera Briefcase by Lodis ($318)

Briefcases. This bag from Lodis has a great look, comes in three colors, and a padded laptop compartment (some of the colors are on sale).  Lodis also offers a tote-shape alternative.  This soft-sided Graham briefcase is another good option.

Looking for something in the under-$200 range?  Try this McKlein Lexington Briefcase or this Furla Piper bag.


Dagne Dover Tote Laptop Bag ($265)

Laptop Bags. I own this Dagne Dover bag in coated canvas.  It’s tough, holds a lot, and is easy to clean.  It can get a little heavy when it’s full, so if that’s a concern for you, try the Lo & Sons OMG or Brookline.  For court or more important meetings, I carry a Rebecca Minkoff Knocked Up Bag (it’s also on sale).

Need something under-$150?  The men’s department is always a good place to start.  Try this Hidesign Aide bag or this ASOS brand leather laptop bag.


Ralph Lauren Dome Satchel ($228)

Satchel. I love the look of this Ralph Lauren satchel.  The small details, the sleek shape, the big-enough size.  If you prefer a barrel shape, this Ivanka Trump bag has really clean lines and a chic look.  If you’re looking for something more modern, try this Riley satchel from Michael Kors.

Looking for something under-$100?  I still love this Eva satchel in gunmetal grey.  This London Fog saffiano satchel is another great option.  And this Aldo Westerling satchel has some chic hardware.


Michael Kors Jet Set Tote ($148)

Tote. If you’re going to carry a tote to work, I think something with a bit of structure is your best option.  This Jet Set tote is a lovely bag.  I also like this Vince Camuto Leila bag.  I also love the berry-hue and thick handles on this Rebecca Minkoff tote.

If you need something for under-$100, this Carlos Santana bag has some nice details.  This Merona tote is another great option that comes in several colors.



  1. Lisa E says:

    The Tory Burch large York tote is the absolute best work bag I have ever had. It has a padded laptop compartment in the middle and pockets and compartments I never knew I needed. The saffiano leather holds up well. Well worth the price tag, but best deal I’ve seen is waiting until Neiman Marcus has their gift card events–buy the tote and get a $50 gift card back.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  2. Anna says:

    For a recent college grad, I’d recommend against a briefcase and going instead for a functional tote or satchel style. A 22 year old with a briefcase just screams playing grown up.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  3. Clare L says:

    I completely love my KNOMO Picton laptop bag. The saffiano leather has held up well in the Seattle rain, and it has enough room for my “commuting shoes”.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  4. J says:

    Belle, it seems like you get some variation of this question A LOT. Have you thought about haveing a standing “first bag suggestions for recent graduates” article once or twice a year to update to recent trends, with links to past articles included? It seems like December (for those who want to ask for a bag for Christmas) and summer (for recent grads starting a new job) would be a good time frame.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I’ve discussed doing something like that with my web designer. The issue is that the items sell out, and then I just get more emails asking for new suggestions. I’m not sure what the solution is for evergreen topics.

      July 20, 2015/Reply
  5. Crystal says:

    The Dagne Dover bag is *amazing.* — It has been my go-to bag for work for more than 6 months, it’s professional enough for court and depositions, has enough structure to stand up on its own, and after daily abuse (including rain, spilled beet juice, and dirty shoes) it still looks great. Every other professional woman I have convinced to try it loves it, too. Highly recommended!

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  6. Cait says:

    I’m a big fan of Angela Roi bags. Really classic styles in variety of colors and they donate to various charities based on the color of the bag.

    Kate Spade outlets usually have a decent selection as well.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  7. B says:

    I frequently recruit and interview people for jobs at various levels, and I hope I can help out a few job-seekers with the main things I personally actually notice as an interviewer:

    1) First impressions start before the handshake. Carry your bag with your left hand or arm so you don’t have to shuffle it around or have it fall off your shoulder when you go to shake hands.

    2) Whatever you carry should be neat and clean, with no rips or obvious wear on the corners. I’m often looking for someone who can make a professional representation of my company in public. I could care less if your bag is under-$50 or $500, but it should look like you take care of it, just as you might take care of the clients and pay attention to detail in business.

    3) The size of bag you carry matters very little, as long as it is in proportion to your body size, which often falls in the medium satchel to moderate-large tote range. I recall an interviewee who once showed up with a sequined clutch that she could have also taken to a nightclub later that evening, and another who’s tote was twice as big as she was. In the first case, the bag was inappropriate for the setting, in the other, it was just distracting. Part of the interview isn’t proving that you have a bag big enough to carry a ton of work around in. Pick something that won’t distract from your overall look. If I’m noticing your bag and it’s distracting from your personality, that’s a misstep.

    4) Finally, take a few minutes to clean out and organize your bag before you go to your interview. If you have to root around in your back to find something and it’s a disaster with old receipts and used kleenex flying out, I’m going to wonder if you really have the organizational skills you just spent 10 minutes outlining.

    For myself, I carry the Tory Burch large York tote in black that Lisa E mentioned above and would not hesitate to take it to an interview. It has fantastic interior storage and sleek lines.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  8. Katie says:

    I third the Tory Burch large York tote. I’m an attorney, and it is incredibly functional for my day-to-day needs.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  9. KC says:

    I bought a gently used leather Michael Kors satchel on ebay six years ago for less than $100 and I love it. It perfectly fits files and papers, but isn’t so big that it looks weird if it’s empty. I have a small cross-body bag that I keep my phone/wallet/keys in inside the purse so I can just pull that out for lunch

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  10. Melissa says:

    I’m one of the lucky people that has to carry two laptops to and from work most days. I tried using a purse for a few months until back pain and the metro had me switch to my backpack from college. (I know. I know.) Luckily, my father had a wonderful leather backpack that looks much less grungy. For me the bottom line is surviving the commute while also looking like an adult. Don’t forfeit all fashion but also don’t forfeit your back and shoulders.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  11. Jess says:

    I absolutely love my Knomo Grosvenor. I currently have my eye on the Knomo Maddox or Tory York Tote.

    July 20, 2015/Reply
  12. Taylor says:

    The Tory Burch York Tote is my best handbag purchase in years. The laptop sleeve is fabulous (I’m a big-4 consultant who lives and dies by her laptop). I can fit in everything I need for my day and have not found the open compartments to be a huge problem. Can’t recommend it enough – I have it in orange and I’ll be purchasing another in black for winter.

    July 21, 2015/Reply
  13. Susan says:

    I own the Audrey briefcase by Lodis, in red. Highly recommended. I use it in the fall and winter, and switch to a more summery option the rest of the year.

    July 22, 2015/Reply