The Briefcase Is Back–and I Want One
I’ve been in search of a briefcase. No, I’m not a C-suite advertising exec, a divorce lawyer, or a prominent lobbyist. I’m just a fashion writer who covers the return of knee-high tights and ballet flats. My bag is lighthearted as well: I come to work every day with a Louis Vuitton bag from the early ’00s with a noughties cell phone pocket on the side.
But lately, I’ve really been lusting after structure. Fun fashion, be gone. I want something more serious, more long-term. I’ve nixed the flirty fun–and sheer parts–of my wardrobe and have instead opted for pinstripes and collars. And after watching Shalom Harlow in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, in which she plays one of those execs in advertising who carry a luxury tote-cum-briefcase, I want one for myself.
But these carryalls have gotten a bad rap in women’s fashion for being the antithesis of fun and sexiness. They’re almost always a 9-to-5 eyesore thanks to their often rounded square shape and drab coloring. Look at Ally McBeal: The Boston lawyer seems to be perpetually weighed down by her hulking bag. In Working Girl, dealmaker Jack (Harrison Ford) presents secretary-businesswoman Tess (Melanie Griffith) with an ugly brown briefcase as a gift as if it were the negotiation version of a proposal.
The proof is in the pages of Vogue as well. The coverage has been sparse; the options are, well, lacking. In the May 1975 issue of Vogue, there was an ad for the leather label Hartmann and their six Halston-designed briefcases. They came in Halston’s patented Ultrasuede and colors like Bright Navy and Coffee Creme, as well as in “Hartmann’s legendary industrial belting leather.” A model in a herringbone blazer and a scarf around her neck modeled a sandy envelope iteration. She didn’t look particularly happy. In an article from February 2007, which pushes new-wave briefcases—a.k.a. luxury totes—the editor Filipa Fino writes about her woes: “What’s exciting about a briefcase? Not much. Even the word itself evokes the boring, black clichés sold in cheerless supply warehouses.” Ouch. They get no love.
And yet, some people do really love them. I recently posted on Instagram about wanting one, highlighting a monogrammed Gucci version, a black leather one with a bamboo handle, and a textured Bottega Veneta. Très chic. I was inundated with messages, mostly from men, but also a few women who tote them to and from work. Editor Margaux Anbouba uses her father’s briefcase from his first job. The piece is crafted from mahogany leather with sculpted ridges, complete with a gold lock and handle—rich and sumptuous. “It’s kind of unwieldy, but I feel powerful,” she wrote to me. My friend Katherine Bernard also wears a vintage Gucci briefcase on occasion, complete with the house’s green and red fabric down the center. “I’ve carried it to several business meetings,” she says. “Its structured interior is good to carry a laptop.”
Of course, the style is still in fashion, at least for dudes. It has never left the men’s runways, and this season, creative riffs took shape at Craig Green, Thom Browne, and Louis Vuitton. But I don’t necessarily find these sexy, and instead, they feel like they are too fashion-forward. When I think of the kind of briefcase I want, I think of a killer ad by Mont Blanc in the November 1996 issue of Vogue, which features a red-hot briefcase: Its modernist silhouette is curved like the dip in a woman’s hip, and it boasts a tiny but blinding gold lock. Its tagline is: “The Art of Writing Your Life”. Okay, we love a take-charge moment!
And there are some options that don’t feel too drenched in testosterone. For their resort 2023 collection at the New York Stock Exchange, Balenciaga showed bags in both croc-embossed and plain leather which could be worn undone, so the flap would dangle by the knees. Leave it to Balenciaga to make the sterile bag cheeky. The concept of an open briefcase is a bit naughty, like an unbuttoned blouse that accidentally shows the bra. It’s a world where precious goods are meant to be locked up.
One of my favorites is a freaktastic version from Luar by Raul Lopez. It’s the big-city sister of his ladylike Ana bag that is shaped like a dainty little trapezoid. The Ana bag is now rectangular, with leather so shiny you can see yourself in it. Lopez added a massive oval handle that is as big as the right-angled briefcase itself, making for an appealing mix of shapes. While the bag itself has a sass factor, Lopez notes that its inspiration means business. “The shape was made for the person on the go,” he says. “It is a shape that pays homage to the clerical businessperson who loves to keep everything organized and not messy.” Curve meets corporate. I like it.
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