Are Messenger Bags Unprofessional?

Are Messenger Bags Unprofessional? | CorporetteMessenger bags: unprofessional, or just fine for the office? Reader H wonders:

Hello! I love Corporette, and had a question about messenger bags. I read through some of the blog’s archives re: work bags, and found plenty of negative comments about carrying messenger bags to work. I always wore them in school, and recently impulse-bought a men’s messenger bag on sale (this one to be specific), because it was so gorgeous in the store. Going through the comments made me wonder — would this be appropriate to bring to the office and wear to a meeting? The leather is just such great quality, and I love the simple, understated lines. For the record, very, very new at NYC BigLaw, and I only wear these sorts of bags on one shoulder, not across the body.

Interesting question, Reader H! (Pictured: Bleecker Commuter in Leather, $598 at Coach.) We’ve talked about backpacks for commuting (including walking to work), women’s briefcases, and interview totes, and for Coffee Breaks I’ve often suggested briefcases primarily marketed to men, but I’ve never thought about the messenger bag question — so I’m curious to hear what the readers say.

For my $.02:  The bag you bought looks great.  It’s professional, functional, subdued, and — particularly if carried by its handle straps instead of its longer strap — just looks like a regular briefcase.  A+.

I do think there are some messenger bags that aren’t appropriate — but I tend to think it’s more the bag specifics than the fact that they’re “messenger” bags that disqualifies them.  For example, I have always loved the Le Sportsac line of messenger bags for simple gym bags to keep at the office — but the wild prints and nylon fabrication make them generally too casual for work.  Ditto, I was recently eyeing the Timbuk2 and Rickshaw brands of messenger bags for work for my husband (who somehow managed to KILL a Cole Haan briefcase I’d bought him in record time), and we decided that they were just too casual for him for work.

Readers, what do you think makes a messenger bag appropriate or inappropriate for work? Do you think the recent rise in trendiness of longer straps has changed your answer from what you might have said a few years ago?


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  1. Agree its the type of bag not the messenger aspect – I mean, a messenger bag is just a large crossbody, and I don’t think anyone would say a classic leather crossbody is unprofessional.

    But a timbuktu or similar is basically a backpack. Works in business casual, tech or startup offices; probably not most other professional situations.

  2. If it’s made out of high-quality material and looks basically like a briefcase with a cross-body strap, I think it’s perfectly appropriate. Canvas messenger bags, however, just bring me back to my high school slacker/hippie days….extra points if they are covered in pins with band names and political messages :)

    • I agree with Rose’s. If it is made out of QUALITY LEATHER, it is OK (like my lit bag, onley better). If, ON THE OTHER HAND, it is made out of CANVASS, it is NOT accepteable. It is kind of like the OLD computer bag’s. Leather = OK, canvass = FOOEY!

      The mangeing partner will NOT reimburse for anything that is NOT matching leather to my shoe’s. Today the manageing partner’s brother came in. He is getting DIVORCED from his wife, and he asked me about “getteing a PAD in the City”. I think he think’s that when he move’s to the City, that women will be all over him, begging him to sleep with them. That is NOT goeing to happen. He is a 60 year old guy with a bald head and a big bald stomach to match. Just like the manageing partner, he has bad breathe, and I am sure Women will NOT want him to kiss them, let alone have sex with them. I think he think’s that b/c he has MONEY in the bank, that women will come flockeing! That may have been true in the 1980’s, but we are NOW profesional’s with our own job’s and our own MONEY. We do NOT need a man to suport us. YAY!!!!

      That is not good new’s to men over 60, who expect that women will just peel their clothe’s off after a dinner out with 2 drink’s. Mabye that worked on Mad Men, but that was in the 1960’s, when Mom and Dad were kid’s! Nowadays, we want a guy who is our EQUAL, not a guy who just wants us for sex. That is the reason I am haveing troubel finding a decent guy. There are plenty of guys out there, but MOST ALL are NOT worthy of me, Dad says. Even Grandma Leyeh agrees, tho she wonder’s if Alan would have been OK. FOOEY!

      • What in tarnation? What does the managing partner wanting to get a pad in the city have to do with this?

  3. Senior Attorney :

    I think this bag is awesome and would be perfectly fine in even the stuffiest office.

    Canvas messenger bags, as has been noted, notsomuch.

  4. Gail the Goldfish :

    Agree it depends on the material/look. I wouldn’t even call the pictured bag a messenger bag, but a laptop bag, and is definitely work appropriate When I think messenger bag, I think it has a flap over the front instead of a zip top. Which I still think is fine depending on the look of the bag. Something like this one, for example, seems fine:

  5. Killer Kitten Heels :

    Agree with others that it’s a material/styling question. When people tell me they’re thinking about a messenger bag, I tend to picture the Timbuktu-style, nylon or canvas, kid-on-a-bike-looking style of bag, so that’s where I think my own knee-jerk “no way” response to “can I carry a messenger bag to work?” comes from, but if we’re talking a bag like the one pictured, I think they’re completely appropriate for pretty much any workplace.

  6. For me, it’s a combination of material, size, what you put in it, and how you carry it. Any bag that is over stuffed, too large for your frame, or bumpy and unbalanced does not look good. This Coach bag looks fine, but if you imagine it with things hanging out or too full to close properly, that is not a professional look. However, a professional looking canvas bag can be fine in many professional situations, if it’s a neutral color, well kept, and filled evenly. I think some of the Timbuktu bags are doable.

    I travel a lot, and I always use a Tumi backpack, and don’t really care it’s might not be considered the professional choice. It meets my needs for carry on–the backpack and a rolling suitcase plus a small purse, and I can move easily and quickly through airports. I’ve been to all types of meetings and conferences around the world, and no one has looked at it twice.

  7. Miss Behaved :

    Leather cross-body bags are my go-to for work, because they’re super easy to carry when I have to run for the T, plus they fit lots of gear.

    But I’m in a business casual environment so I really don’t have to worry. In the winter, I carry a black leather Fossil cross-body bag. Right now I’m carrying a bright yellow one. It’s faux leather, but looks real.

  8. I used a solid black nylon LL Bean messnger bag (over one shoulder, not cross-body) in DC BigLaw. Very durable and held a ton. 15 years later, it died. I drive to work now and just use a clutch and a redweld.

  9. QueenBeeOC :

    I am wondering – is it TRULY necessary to carry a black purse for an interview? I have blue marc jacobs bag that is very nicely made but its a fun electric blue. Is that unprofessional? I just realized the other day I don’t have a black bag. I have a mid size tote but find it too large to carry to interviews, but will if I have to.

    • I don’t think so. I think it’s actually good to not look like every other person who is interviewing. Just use your common sense.

    • Anne Shirley :

      I don’t think a bag has to be black or boring, but I’d worry electric blue Marc Jacobs might read a bit too in your face trendy. A bag should ideally match you outfit’s level of formality. If you’re interviewing in a conservative blacknavygray skirt suit, electric blue may not be formal enough. The fact that it’s nicely made and designer doesn’t change the calculus that much for me.

    • I wouldn’t want to work any place that puts a negative mark next to my name because I show a little (subdued) individuality at the interview. Partly because I think it’s petty and any place/person that would ding me for that is not a place where I’m going to fit culturally.

      FWIW, I carried a bright pink tote to my last job interview. And got the job. Hopefully, based on who I am and what I do rather than how I looked.

      • Anne Shirley :

        I’m not so sure about this attitude. My firm cares that I know how to put myself together for a professional formal occasion. Because judges care. Electric blue isn’t actually subdued. I don’t think someone with a colorful purse would get dinged, but it would be a thing to be noticed that has nothing to do with your skills. I think there’s a more nuanced take on this than “well I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway .” Unless your item of flair really is deeply important to you, some more evaluation might be useful.

      • +1 to LawyrChk

        I, too, carried a bright pink tote (Kate Spade) to my last interview and got the job.

      • +1 lawyer chick. I remain on team show some personality. I have also been complimented by judges on my fabulous handbags and shoes so I don’t really think that’s a real concern.

    • I posted another comment about work bags and while I would have no problem with an electric blue purse for work (one of my favorite handbags is a Kate Spade bag in electric blue!), I would not bring it to an interview. For an interview, you need a good quality tote-style handbag with clean lines. It does not have to be black but should coordinate with your suit. I would wear either black, chocolate brown, black cherry, or grey, but would lean towards black or grey.

      As an interviewer, I do notice what people wear. Personally, I would not ding someone for a hot pink handbag, but there are people who would. To me, the interviewee needs to look put together and well-dressed. I expect that the way you present yourself to me is the same way that you will present yourself to clients. You should be wearing a well-fitting, high quality suit in a neutral color. Your hair should be neat. You should be wearing subtle, well-applied makeup. Your shoes should look nice (not too scuffed). Your handbag should be leather (or look like leather), classic, and high quality.

      Once you get the job, then you can show your individuality.

      • QueenBeeOC :

        I see your point. And I appreciate all the feedback. Also, this is for a job in the casino business in Nevada.
        Here is a link to the handbag in question:

    • Depending on the blue I think you’d be fine. I have a red Kate Spade that I’ve carried to several interviews (and from which I received offers). I think you will need a good read on the firm/company beforehand though. That said, I wouldn’t do a bright pink or yellow. I unexpectedly had to go to federal court for a TRO hearing one Friday afternoon. I was carrying a pink Kate Spade tote. I almost died whenever the judge (a woman) commented on it. She said something about it being very “bright.” I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or not.

      • Platinomad :

        The first time I met one of the Managing Directors I now work really closely with, he was introducing himself and said he had heard great things about me. Then he turned to my supervisor and said “and she wears bright nail polish!” pretty dryly (i think I was wearing purple). I was obviously mortified and hadn’t known he was coming to my client that day, and assumed he thought it was unprofessional.

        But then I later found out he has a bunch of daughters and grand daughters and genuinely thought my nail polish was fun. People aren’t terrible.

    • Platinomad :

      I sort of feel like we have had this “personality at work via clothes/accessories” debate 1000 times, and I am fairly team “don’t push the envelop in your conservative office” (i wear panty hose and am 25). However, I carry a bright blue Phillip Lim messenger bag in my conservative, suits only all the time, consulting firm every single day. If people even notice it, they think it is cool. I think there is a huge difference between a bright bag and some super-eclectic or not-quite-formal-enough attire.

      I do recruiting and would never ding someone for this. I would be happy to see someone not all black head to toe (if i noticed at all), but maybe thats just me.

      • Platinomad :

        For reference, this bag, in the ink:

  10. Related question: I carry a laptop to work and have been using a backpack for a while. It’s not my first choice fashion-wise, but I work in a pretty casual office and it’s saving me a lot of shoulder pain. My problem – I also need to have my metro pass handy during my commute, which has gotten more difficult as the weather gets warmer since I no longer have coat pockets. When I carry it in front pocket, I often risk smacking people on the bus while I swing it around and fumble for my card. Any suggestions? I’m definitely open to getting a new bag if it’ll help!

    • Killer Kitten Heels :

      Stick it in a luggage tag and attach the luggage tag to your belt loop.

    • What about a wristlet or something? You can keep it in the front pocket of your backpack and then pull it out before you start your commute so you have it handy?

      I’m usually anti-backpack but it sounds like you need it so I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a different type of bag.

    • I like carrying a small crossbody or wristlet for backpack situations or when going through airports for the reasons you state.

    • If you don’t mind the lady-of-a-certain-age-with-her-reading-glasses-on-a-string similarity, there are some pretty snazzy lanyards out there that come in all different colors and fabrics including rhinestones or satin ribbons or beads. I have several I change out to carry my security/bus pass around my neck.

  11. Clementine :

    When I was in that weird space transitioning from Grad School to Real Working Professional World via that bizarre space often known as ‘graduate internships’, I had a professor pull me aside and tell me that I was holding myself back by dressing too ‘student-y’. At the time, I was wearing a button down shirt with a pair of poly black pants and probably carrying a nylon Timbuktu bag…

    I still use that as a guideline. To that end- the bag you’ve indicated doesn’t read ‘too student-y’ at all; however, many of the examples others have mentioned (i.e., overfilled canvas bag, very sporty nylon-y bag, etc.) would read as ‘grad student’.

  12. I agree with everyone above. Messenger bags can vary by appropriatness based on materials, shape, etc. This one is gorgeous and perfectly appropriate.

    I just want to remind the baby sharks out there that it is far better to be too conservative than to be too casual. What may work for a senior woman (e.g. a more casual bag) will not work for someone who is still at the “dues paying” stage of their career. That goes double in casual environments in the Silicon Valley.

    –yes, I am grumpy because my Facebook feed has way too many posts this morning about summers who are not appropriately dressed for work.

    • Agreed. And really, all bags vary based on these qualities. For example, a nice leather tote isn’t unprofessional, but the canvas/knit one I use to lug groceries is. Details are what will make or break you.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I completely agree with this advice. Yes, by all means look around at what the more senior women are wearing, but proceed with caution.

    • teensyweensylaw :

      Ah Summers!

      Am I the crabby elderly doyenne on here for thinking that showing thigh in the Courthouse is never acceptable for a woman who is or hopes to be practicing law at sometime in her life?

  13. I’m not into crossbody bags at the office because of the boob separation issue. It’s really unflattering on me, but does it work for other women? Also I drive to work rather than commute on foot, so a crossbody isn’t really necessary.

    • It doesn’t look good, but at the end of the day when my bag is full of library books and it’s heavy and I just want to get home, and I don’t have the energy to keep my bag on my shoulder, the crossbody strap comes into its own.

      (My everyday uni bag is the Kipling Festival tote, so I usually use the shoulder straps, and occasionally the long strap used as a ‘long shoulder bag’ like the picture in the post, and when I’m tired I wear it as a crossbody)

      Also – along with the boob separation, I get sweaty where it forces my top to press against my skin. Lovely.

    • Yeah, I don’t care for them for this reason. For work or otherwise.

    • On the crossbody strap issue: I have a relatively grown-up crossbody canvas and leather bag for work (but right now I work in an extremely casual environment – I’m routinely the dressiest and most formally accessorized, and if my work environment or role changes, I’ll switch back to a dressier bag). In any case, I find that a wide strap on a well-designed bag doesn’t go right across the middle of your chest – causing the “separation” problem – but crosses your chest above your breasts and tucks under the arm. The key is to have a wide strap and to wear it toward the back of your hip, not right horizontally at your side, and to keep the strap at the right length.

      (We are so casual around here, in fact, that I’m thinking of acquiring a moderately grown-up backpack like this one from Everlane. I am a little sad, though, because I have a couple of vintage Coach leather briefcase-purse hybrids that are really nice, but way the heck too dressy for here right now – it would look as though I’m interviewing.)

  14. I don’t use a briefcase at all. I had one when I first started practicing law but I like to carry pretty purses and handbags most of the time. Sometimes they are crossbody. Heck, I’ve been known to bring my Rebecca Minkoff MAC to work! Probably not the most professional bag in the world, but it’s a know your office thing and also know the context. If I’m meeting with clients, I’m not going to be carrying around a trendy handbag. I will be carrying a large structured black leather tote or similar.

    The Coach crossbody that was posted (not my style at all) is perfectly fine for work. But also, people should not be afraid to express individuality. Look around. What are others doing? As long as you show that you know when to tone it done, I think us ladies (even in law firms) have freedom to have fun with fashion.

  15. Former NYC Biglaw :

    Agreed with all that this bag is lovely and totally appropriate. You are going to need SOMETHING to carry home your redwelds and binders, and no one will bat an eye at this one.

    BUT: when I was junior NYC biglaw I found that leather bags like this were just too heavy when loaded with redwelds and binders (which I was always lugging to and from the office). I found that the style and fabric of Longchamp-style bags to be just so much lighter and easier to carry. So when selecting a bag I’d be careful not to choose one that is heavy when empty, particularly if you have a long commute on the subway. I have no experience with this particular bag, this is just a general comment.

  16. This bag is stunning and I cannot imagine an office (or courtroom for that matter) that would consider it unprofessional, and it isn’t even my style of bag at all.

  17. This bag is simply adorable.

  18. The one you’ve selected is appropriate. I think materials are more important than the design of the bag. I actually have one similar to this –

    Personally, I wouldn’t do this bag –

    I had one similar and every time I opened in a meeting or courtroom, the metal closures banged against something. Not a quiet bag in the least. Stick with the zip top.

  19. Does any one think this bag is too casual for maybe an interview in a bank or a call center or school etc, not a super stuffy and high end office?,d.dGo

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