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.