Well designed, fashionable, professional-yet-functional bags for women are so hard to find. I surveyed over 500 women lawyers on email lists, Facebook, and Twitter, in order to compile this list of briefcases for women. The list includes a wide range of names, styles, colors, and interesting lesser-known brands, all of which can accommodate a laptop.
These are my three rules for a well-designed bag for lawyers:
- Strap. Some bags don’t come with straps, which means you have to carry it in your hand. This is impractical and annoying. You often need both hands to grab something out of your bag, and you can’t do that if you have to carry the bag by the handle instead of over your shoulder. (Bonus points if the strap doesn’t dig into your shoulder, especially right over a bra strap.)
- Functional. This obviously depends on what you need to carry. I tend to travel light and often the most I need to squeeze into a bag is a laptop and a one-inch folder (along with the usual woman stuff like makeup). Carefully considering how much room you need and what you will be carrying will make your briefcase more lovable in the long term. Another nice-to-have feature is a bag with feet that can stand on its own. It is nice to be able to set down your bag without worrying about it falling over.
- Feels good and/or feminine. When I graduated from law school, I had a men’s Coach briefcase, similar to this one. I bought it because I loved the feel of the leather, it was highly functional, and it was well built. Back then, I wanted a bag that will help me blend in and having a bag that looked similar to the ones my male counterpart was carrying helped me feel more comfortable.
As I matured and became more comfortable as a lawyer, I felt it was important to bring more of myself and my personality not only to what I what I wore, but to all aspects of my law practice. Having a bag that I felt comfortable carrying, with the right blend of femininity and function, became more important to me. I didn’t want to be a generic lawyer, and leaving behind the men’s Coach briefcase was one small step towards finding my footing.
In the previous version of this post, Staci Zaretsky spoke with Kat Griffin, the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Corporette. Griffin said:
I think the fact is that women have to put SOMETHING on when they get up in the morning, whether it’s cute or not. Similarly, they have to carry their papers in something. And the sad fact is that what you end up wearing and carrying — they ALL reflect on your professionalism. If it’s dowdy and frumpy, you look out of touch with the modern world. If it’s too sexy or feminine, it may suggest that you’re dressing for your social life rather than your working life.
This balance between professional, functional, and not too frumpy or too sexy makes it a challenge to find a briefcase or bag. The recommendations from the lawyers I surveyed were mostly a variation on the traditional briefcase or tote. There were also many suggestions for rolling bags, which are especially helpful if you have to carry a lot of weight and negotiate high heels at the same time.
First up: bags under $100.
Professional Bags Under $100
I was certainly not the only lawyer to leave behind the “masculine” bag and traded it in for a more feminine one. Here’s what Maureen Hodson, attorney at Hunsucker Goodstein said about her Kenneth Cole Hit a Triple bag:
For years I used a really ugly masculine bag and longed for something more feminine. I found it about a year ago, and though inexpensive, this has served me well.
Hodson recommended this bag not only because of how it looks but because of its function:
I like that it has dedicated space for both an ipad and laptop, with plenty of room for legal pads and a redwell or two. The external pockets are great for dropping my office keys into. The center compartment (which holds the laptop) unzips all the way, which is really nice for when you need to stack a bunch of stuff in there!
Another brand that falls into the feminine yet functional bag is from Solo. I included it because they have a large collection under $100. Here’s the Solo Vintage:
Next: bags under $300.
Professional Bags Under $300
Another big factor in considering the bag is how it feels against the body. I love bags that hugs the body, like this Piel Hobo laptop bag. It has wider straps and hugs the shoulder and allows the bag to sit in between the arm and the side of the body. It also comes in 4 colors, which is always an added bonus.
Many of the women lawyers I interviewed chose men’s briefcases. It makes sense in many ways. They’re functional, there are lots of options, and it does the job — carrying your stuff from point A to point B with ease and comfort.
Of all the men’s bags recommendations, my favorite one was the Knomo Henderson bag.
Lisette Sell, attorney at Cooley LLP, said she chose this bag because it is “feminine and functional.” She “wanted a bag that was just the right size. Wanted more than just a laptop bag but didn’t want a large clunky bag. I am not very big/tall and didn’t want to have to haul around a bulky bag.”
Knomo also makes women’s bags like its Wigmore bag. It comes in 6 different colors.
Often, what gets overlooked is the weight of the bag itself. The Lo & Sons O.G. bag is lightweight and highly functional. It’s really impressive what this small bag can carry!
It’s black nylon with leather straps and nickel hardware, so I’m not weighed down by the bag, the straps are actually long enough to carry on your shoulder, and it holds an astonishing amount of things — my laptop, cord, phone, ipad, large binder/redwell, etc. It has zippers on one side that will allow you to place the bag over the handle of a suitcase or rolling bag. The interior has useful pockets and has a light color to make it easier to find where your keys or phone slipped to. It also comes in brown, navy, and a couple of fun, less conservative colors. I used to carry a Tumi tote bag, one of the earliest models that they put out when they started to specifically market to women, and the OG is far superior.
Unlike all the other bags listed in this post, this Michael Kors Jet Set bag isn’t specifically for a laptop, although you can place a laptop in the middle compartment. Oftentimes, you’re limited to one or two colors when it comes to professional bags. The Jet Set bags comes in three sizes and dozens of colors and patterns.
Additional Bags under $300:
Madewell Transport Tote $168.00
Zara Contrasting Tote Bag $39.90
H&M Shopper Tote $24.99
Next: professional bags over $300.
Professional Bags Over $300
Jodi Swick, partner at Edison, McDowell & Hetherington llp said,
It will hold several folders of documents (or a binder), a laptop and a pair of shoes. It also has outside pockets for your phone, pens, etc. Mine has literally been around the world.
Tumi has one of the best collection of women’s briefcases, and there were multiple votes for Tumi bags, both for style and function. As Shoshana Chazan, attorney at Sodexo, Inc., puts it:
Tumi has some great options. I have an old one that, even after the dog used it as a chew toy at one point, still looks (and works) great.
Erin McDermit, attorney at Shuman Snyder said,
Tumi is all I have ever used. quality and simple/classic styles.
I selected two for this post: the Sinclair, which is more traditional in style, and the Santa Monica, which is a tote. Sinclair is just the right size, black, and goes with everything. Like most of the other Tumi bags, it is highly functional, with a large interior compartment that is great for bulky files. The Santa Monica is more feminine and comes in three colors: coral (shown), brindle, and crimson.
Next: professional bags over $1,000.
Professional Bags Over $1,000
There are obviously well-known brands like Louis Vuitton in the over-$1,000 club. However, if you have the budget, getting a bag made to order for you may be a lovely option.
Elizabeth A. Frohlich, partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, said:
I loooooove this work tote that I have used every day and for court for 8 years, and still get compliments. I am a BigLaw partner, so need something that can go formal, too. It is very expensive ($1050), but is a real workhorse, made of delicious leather. Mine is black with silver hardware. Malcolm Glaser/Glaser Designs is local and will customize, too.
Louis Vuitton Neverfull $1,260
Next: BigLaw Bags
Givenchy Rottweiler Tote $1,225
To show them who they’re really dealing with, carry a bag with teeth.
Prada Saffiano Lux Double Zip Tote $2,430.00
For your best Olivia Pope impression, bring this classic piece to a settlement conference.
Chloe Marcie Large Satchel $2,090
Tote like you work in fashion.
Next: Rolling Bags
Despite trying to travel as light as possible, sometimes, you just can’t avoid carrying a lot of stuff with you. I’ve had this Kensington Contour Balance bag for many years and it’s absolutely fantastic. The best part? It’s $70!
Sometimes, you want to be able to wheel a bag someplace but also have the ability to carry it on your shoulder. This McKlein bag allows you to do both with the detachable wheels.
This Tumi wheeled bag also received positive review. Here’s what Tennille Christensen, from Tech Law Garden listed as her reasons for loving this bag:
1. The reduced back strain
2. They fit beneath a plane seat and in a small commuter jet overhead bin, so I’ve *never* had to check it
3. The pockets are very well arranged, fitting papers, books, and a laptop in separate compartments
4. The dividers can be removed turning it into a very small open suitcase.
5. The quality of the construction
6. The addition of the large leather loop on back that means you can slide it over the handle to secure it to the top of a true rolling suitcase and roll both on the same set of wheels.
One final wheeled bag that deserves mention is this Wenger Patriot Rolling Case. I purchased it for my husband and it is currently selling on Amazon for $115. Yes, it is a “man’s” bag but I mention it because I’ve borrowed his bag on many occasions. It carries everything you could possibly want and it’s extremely durable. I especially like the pop-out laptop bag, which is a standalone bag. I’ve seen other women lawyers with the exact same bag in courtroom. I think it’s a great value for the money and if they ever make it in hot pink or red, I’d be all over it.
Next: non-courtroom bags.
TimBuk2 bags are extremely popular for good reason. They’re extremely durable, comfortable and customizable. There are hundreds of ways you can customize these messenger bags. I carry my small black TimBuk2 bag regularly and it’s definitely my favorite.
Kate Spade Leopard Dot iPad Air Keyboard Folio $98.00
Sena Vettra 360 iPad $71.99
Byrd & Belle Simple MacBook Sleeve $38.00
Case Factory iPhone 6 Calf Drummed Black $98
Originally written by Staci Zaretsky and published on April 15th, 2011. Jeena Cho has completely re-written the post with updates contributed by Jenny Odegard.
Featured image: “shopping in the city in motion blur” from Shutterstock.