Hunting for the right bag can be a lot like hunting for the right pair of shoes. You want to consider your wardrobe and lifestyle, and think about how you’ll be using the item. Some styles are better for the office; others for campuses; others still for quick errands on the weekend. Plus, like shoes, a bag can make an outfit on its own – or conversely, ruin it. Just think of how many men you’ve seen ruin a perfectly nice suit with a cheap pair of shoes or an ugly, black nylon briefcase.
With so many styles on the market, however, I thought I’d put together a quick guide on some that I’ve found to be most useful – from things you can use with tailored clothing to more casual styles. There will be two parts to this series. Today’s cases are on the more classic and formal side.
The Office Briefcase
If you wear a suit, you probably need a briefcase. Something made from leather and is done in a traditional or conservative design. The parameters around choosing one are fairly simple – brown is more versatile, although if you wear black shoes, you’ll likely want a case in black. Softer leathers also look less formal than hard attaches, including ones made from stiffer bridle materials.
Some of my favorite makers include Frank Clegg Leatherworks and Chester Mox. The first has an English-styled satchel that I use myself; the second offers bespoke, fully handstitched bags for about the same price of good machine-made items. Bellanie, the woman behind the company, makes things these days that I think are as good as Hermes (yes, really). She uses the same materials as Hermes, and fully hand saddle-stitches everything, which results in a sturdier construction. For a more affordable buy, Linjer is worth a look. Their bags are as nice as the ones you’d find at Barney’s, but cost a fraction of the price.
For more recommendations, check our briefcase roundup, where we have suggestions for almost any budget.
The Do-Everything Bag
One of the questions we get most from readers is, “where can I get so-and-so item, which will do everything?” There often isn’t a good answer, although some items are better than others at spanning the formal-to-casual spectrum. For bags, that often means getting something made from leather – so you can use it with suits and sport coats – but is done in a contemporary, non-fussy design that works with casualwear.
Again, Linjer is a nice bet, as are bags from Serapian. The second is painfully overpriced for what you’re getting, but they’re also not hard to find on sale. I also like Tärnsjö Garveri, a small Swedish company that used to specialize in saddlery before they got into men’s accessories. Given their background in making goods for horse riding, their bags are on the slightly stiffer side, but the contemporary designs make them look and feel casual.
The Platonic ideal of the “do-everything bag” for me is Frank Clegg’s Commuter (pictured above). It’s made from a soft, slightly tumbled leather, and comes in a tasteful zip-top design. This is the sort of bag you’d expect to find at Ben Silver, but can also be used with clothes you’d buy at Gentry or Unionmade. Man of the World has nice photos.
Honorable mention: Filson’s 256 or 257 designs (now renamed 70256 and 70257, respectively). These are canvas bags, so they’re little more casual, but they can work in professional environments depending on your office. Billykirk and J. Crew have similar designs, but made from waxed cottons, which give them a more casual sensibility still.
The Sporty Fishing Bag
Further down the list on formality is the fishing bag – a utility design made so fishermen can store their day’s catch. For guys who are using these for style, like me, a fishing bag goes nicely with waxed cotton Barbour jackets, workwear, and the sort of casual stuff you might find at Ralph Lauren. It’s a classic design, but with a rugged and sporty feel.
Some of the best makers in this category include Brady, Hardy, Chapman, and Croots England. These manufacturers have been supplying sportsmen with fishing bags since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1960s, Brady’s flagship model, the Severn, even caught on a fashionable item among celebrities.
The nice thing about these canvas models is that they’re lightweight, uncomplicated, and will acquire a lovely color over time. Given of the nature of the design, the dirtier it gets, the better it looks. If you enjoy the character of a beat-up Barbour or a pair of well-worn leather boots, a canvas bag of this nature is the perfect complement.
Designers have also done their takes. Nigel Cabourn has made them in tweed, and Ralph Lauren has offered them in everything from wool to leather to lighter weight cotton canvases. These can be nice if you don’t want to look like you’re actually fly fishing on Fifth Avenue. I have one from Ralph Lauren that I use with everything short of sport coats. Since fishing bags don’t have handles, you want to be careful about slinging these over a tailored jacket. The weight of the bag can pull on the jacket’s material and ruin the shoulder pad.
Check back tomorrow for part two, where we’ll cover more casual options.