Someone Tweeted (X’ed?) at me just last week, asking about the best briefcases for women… I suspected that they meant “general work bag,” but on the off chance that they meant a traditional briefcase, I was intrigued.
We haven’t talked about the issue in a LONG time, though… so I thought I’d round up some briefcases for women.
Do YOU use a briefcase? (And if so, please list your city!) What brands do you like best?
Here’s another question — have you ever had a briefcase made? One of my family members swears that she and all the other working women she knew had that done in the early ’80s…
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Are Briefcases Right for Professional Women in 2023?
Readers have discussed this in comments from time to time — the briefcase. One commenter advised the readers that in her big city, “not a single woman lawyer I know under the age of 50 carries a purse.” This led to a small debate between briefcase-carrying women and non-briefcase carrying women.
To my eyes, though, in 2023 it’s rare to see a briefcase. Most women I know carry a tote bag for when they need space to carry documents, and/or a backpack when they really need to carry a laptop.
Those frequently carrying files may switch to a tote/purse combo — but even then it seems like something I saw a lot more of a few years ago, before the Cloud, flash drives, remote log-ins, and other convenient telecommuting tools were invented.
(I’ve even written about what your tote bag says about you.)
What is a Briefcase, and How Is It Different From a Tote?
In my mind, the defining feature of a briefcase is that it has a short handle and is meant to be carried at your side, or maybe dangling from the crook of your elbow. It should be large enough to fit at least a pad of paper, ideally a legal-size pad of paper. They don’t have to be deep, but they should be large enough to fit at least a 1″ binder. They can be made of a fabric or leather, although I tend to think of them as a being made of a good leather. I also tend to think of them as having enough structure that they can stand up by themselves.
Contrast that to the classic tote bag — these generally have much longer shoulder straps, although they may also have a short handle as well. Tote bags are also frequently much deeper than briefcases — some even fit an extra pair of shoes, a water bottle, or even a lunch bag.
If you prefer a more modern idea of a briefcase, you may want to look into some of the larger padfolios or leather document holders out there — these can be carried under your arm like a clutch, or carried in your hand like a redweld folder. (See below for some of our latest favorites!)
Our Favorite Briefcases for Women
Here are some classic briefcases for women that have been around for a while — in fact the Dooney & Burke option has been around since at least 2010.
Some Great Trendy Briefcases
The Modern Semi-Briefcase: Leatherology
I feel like this is briefcase-adjacent, but a reader had been looking for a large leather clutch/folder just like this, and this was suggested by one of the readers. It’s gorgeous! I love how it’s like a cross between a padfolio and laptop sleeve — almost like an elevated redweld.
The pictured holder is $150 at Leatherology; it’s available in 5 different colors.
Hunting for something similar but more affordable, or with a wider range of colors? Etsy sellers have a number of options, including this $30 leather folder, this Macbook laptop sleeve with pockets for $90, and this option for $50. And, of course, you can just buy plain redwelds (or, hopefully, get them from your office supply closet).
The Affordable Briefcase from Amazon: Cluci
This “briefcase for women” at Amazon looks great. I like the options of the long strap (handy for your commute) and the shorter handles (more attractive), and the fact that it’s real cowhide but under $180 is great.
There are 7 colorways (including burgundy, always great with navy), and I particularly like the multicolored accordion side, which reminds me of a redweld in the best way. It has tons of great reviews at Amazon.
The Convertible Briefcase: Senreve
It’s somewhat rare to see a briefcase that converts into a backpack – so this entry in the category from Senreve is appreciated! It is more on the “satchel that CAN be a backpack” side of things, perhaps with a healthy dose of “so long as you don’t put anything heavy into it while wearing it as a backpack” kind of caveat.
The bag comes in a ton of colors, and there are even “vegan leather” options for $695-$995. The pictured version is $995.
The Best Alternatives to Briefcases for Women
The Best Work Tote Bags
(Looking for a luxury work bag? Here’s our latest roundup…)
The Best Laptop Totes for Women
Here are some of our favorite laptop bags for work in 2023:
The Best Work Backpacks for Women
Update: Hunting for the best work backpacks? Some of our favorites in 2023 are below — see the full post for all the details!
The Overall Best Work Backpack
The Best Convertible Laptop Backpack
The Best Affordable Backpack for Work
Stylish Padfolios for Women
Psst: Check out some of our latest favorite office padfolios as of 2023, below! If you want something monogrammed, check out Leatherology, Levenger, or (for a splurge), Smythson. (Slightly different, but similar: This gusseted document and laptop holder from Leatherology is also lovely; Cuyana also has something similar!)
Admin note: this post was originally written in 2010, but has been updated substantially as indicated.