In Defense of the professional Backpack


For a lot of men, the question of how to carry our daily essentials around, whether it’s for work or play, is something of an issue. To be sure, we have it a lot easier than women: a lot of their clothes have no pockets at all or, adding insult to injury, fake pockets.

With that said, in many office settings, backpacks are somewhat frowned upon, and a lot of men carry a briefcase or satchel. Today, on the eve of a new backpack purchase I recently made, I want to take a second to make the case, both practically and stylistically, for the backpack in professional, white-collar settings.

A Word on Norms

Writing about style is a funny thing, in that it changes over time. Here, I don’t mean fashion, which changes with seasons and on the whim of marketing firms. Style, on the other hand, is more marked by epochs and generations. Some of them last for centuries: the modern suit we know today is largely a product of Edwardian England, for instance. Others are more bound to a decade: you who recall the 60s-70s will remember, likely with photographic evidence, bowl-cut hairstyles.

In men’s bags, there’s been very little change in about the last 100 years. Most white-collar professionals will carry a briefcase or satchel of some sort. Blue-collar folks, if they have a bag at all, will have something more specialized, like a carpenter’s tool bag and belt, or a butcher’s knife roll.

We Have MOre Stuff Now

A century ago, when briefcases were becoming popular, most folks had little to carry. A typical briefcase held paperwork, a few pens, perhaps an inkwell, and, not occasionally, a flask of whiskey or some other spirit.

Now, on a normal day, I carry all of that (sans flask unless I’m camping), plus a laptop, a tablet, several books, contact solution, glasses, sunglasses, and, on rainy days, a packable raincoat. That is simply far too much stuff to put into a single case I’m expected to carry by hand, or with a single shoulder strap.

Backpacks are Cheap, Doctors are expensive

As I get older, things start to ache, creak, and crack. Recently, I also had a shoulder injury that kept me out of the gym for nearly a year. With that said, I’d much, much rather risk looking slightly less sleek than needing a trip to the ER or a sports medicine doctor. Thus, a larger backpack that has padded shoulder straps both allows me to carry the gear I need and is also much kinder to my aging back and shoulders.

With a little bit of looking around, it’s more than possible to find a bag that makes sense in a professional setting. I, for one, go with something in a dark, muted tone that blends in with most outfits. There are also nice leather options out there if you’re willing to spend the money and maintain it. Overall, with norms of dressing staying more casual over the past few decades, I think a professional can more than get away with wearing a backpack.

Leave a Comment