Return to Old Briefcases

On a recent excursion to the shops, accompanied by a friend, we found ourselves in the luggage section of a large and famous department store rather by accident. We had wanted to find quite another department but such is the labyrinthine layout of this gargantuan store, we had turned in a wrong direction somewhere and had ended up in an area of brass locks, leather tags and superfluous straps; surely, we needed nothing here. “Hold on” my companion muttered “I need something for the office, something like a briefcase.” Now I should mention that of my acquaintances, this particular friend happens to be one of the more traditional. Picture cutaway French collars, formally patterned ties, double breasted suits and substantial overcoats and you will be well acquainted with his wardrobe.

Due to my knowledge of his traditional taste, I imagined that he would make a beeline for the classic briefcases; stiff brown leather with plenty of brass. He picked up a canvas bag with a shoulder strap, to my immediate surprise, and asked me what I thought. I admonished him and asked rather acerbically when he was planning on re-attending primary school. The issue is not that I have a problem with such an item as a product but that a sensible, suit wearing solicitor of his education and aforementioned classical taste should consider such a strange bag. For one thing, a bag with a strap is an absolute devil on one’s suit; even after a short time the wear of weight on a shoulder shows and it pulls the jacket away from its position on the torso, distorting the construction. It’s even worse when the top button is fastened and the weight pulls at the centre of the suit.

The other problem with these ‘postman’ bags is that they actually make more difficult what they are intended to make easy (transporting documents, laptops and stationery). The fidgeting one must go through for the ‘comfortable’ position, the way the bag knocks at the thigh. Placing the weight of work on the shoulder sounds like a sensible solution but it can cause other problems; these bags and suits were simply not destined for each other. I remember young chaps at school whose suits evidenced ‘shoulder fatigue’; resulting, over time, in the suit shoulder pulling away from the neck, exposing an inch or two of shirt shoulder.

“Look” I said to my companion “these are far better for you; you spend too much on suits to have them ruined by a postbag.” We were inspecting a collection of classic Mulberry briefcases with simple push locks. I motioned approvingly and yet, to my dismay, but not surprise, my companion opened one and, chuckling heartily, pulled out a tissue-wrapped shoulder strap – detachable and adjustable. Moving on we discovered the more classic examples; bridle leather cases with solid brass fittings and a key lock. Attaché cases with wonderful suede linings and combination locks. It was a relief to discover that no one had attempted to attach a shoulder strap to these well designed and long-lasting items.

It was when my companion stood in the full length mirror, straight and tall with the briefcase in his grasp, I realised another thing about these magnificent strap-free traditional cases of high quality: they look ever so much finer than all the alternatives.


  1. Nicola Linza said:

    Winston, if I may ask who made the one at the upper left? the black minimal expanding one. I have a number of briefcases, too many frankly, and find that I am partial to the classic forms myself. That black one in question looks a bit familiar, and I like it very much. My favorites are my light toned box leather briefcase with red leather interior by John Lobb, and my dark brown leather and suede Mark Cross would have to come in a close second. I notice that you did not mention the portfolio type briefcases. I have a few portfolio cases, including an old Gucci one from the 1970s that I rarely use. However, there are two soft sided handle forms of which I inherited from my father, that are both somewhat like the top middle one pictured here in design. I must say I have used them a lot. They are both by a firm, he was partial to in Italy, by the name of Dell’Ga. They are truly exceptional, yet surprisingly to me few around the world appear to know of them, even though they were founded in 1800.

    November 14, 2008
  2. Grrg said:

    Every time a civil servant leaves a confidential dossier, or a data CD, or a memory stick on a train, I think, “I bet his bag didn’t have a shoulder strap.”

    November 14, 2008
  3. I couldnt agree with you more the wear and tear the messenger bags give jackets is not worth having the look. Good article on briefcases, Thanks

    November 14, 2008
  4. Turling said:

    Grrg, if one had a shoulder strap is one required to sit with it on their shoulder? I don’t see how leaving it on the train has anything to do with shoulder straps as much as absentmindedness. And, why is it a civil servant? Lawyers aren’t forgetful?

    November 14, 2008
  5. hermano said:

    i’ve been looking for a good attache case for so long but it’s so hard to find a good one. (i want something like pictured in top right, or bottom left).

    do you have recommendations of other brands that sell good, thin attache cases?

    November 14, 2008
  6. Fashion style of Leadership said:

    Briefcases like the one in top right bottom left are all over online. One is simply or some such where I bought one. I didn’t feel like just getting the commonly sought one from staples or officemax. Now on the other hand, the flap style ones pictured, cost in the THOUSANDS. And definately not worth it unless you want to be pompous and brag to everyone, because they’re not going to notice or care. Just like $500 cufflinks.

    I suggest checking out or askandy forums, as they had a recent post I was perusing with different ~attache~ cases pictured.

    November 30, 2008
  7. “Now on the other hand, the flap style ones pictured, cost in the THOUSANDS. And definately not worth it unless you want to be pompous and brag to everyone, because they’re not going to notice or care.”

    A strange set of words. Firstly, they don’t cost thousands merely because they have a flap. In actual fact, Pickett has this one available for £225;,%20Briefcases%20and%20Folios_Briefcases/022110001.htm

    and this one is £545;,%20Briefcases%20and%20Folios_Briefcases/022770004.htm

    Secondly, I am confused. If your friends and acquaintances can see you have a smart, flap briefcase, why would it necessitate bragging? They would surely notice it was different to a conventional attache case. People who’d buy these cases would hardly need to justify the purchase by telling everyone else how much the item cost; when you’re buying an item of high quality, you’re buying it to last, not to use it’s price as an ice-breaker.

    I can say with some degree of confidence that buying one is not a sign of pomposity but of shrewdness. Recognising quality is a dying art.


    Apologies, I had written a response to your comments. It registered on the ‘Recent comments’ list immediately, but then it was never added. It could be because I added hyperlinks to the website which sold the briefcase you mentioned. The briefcase in the top corner is a Pickett. A frame top case in bridle leather:,%20Briefcases%20and%20Folios_Briefcases/023770011.htm


    I had also written a response for you (this was also not posted on this board). I apologise for this. Aspinal, a company on which I had written a few weeks ago, manufacture excellent attache cases.


    November 30, 2008

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