Lady, you might need a briefcase.

by Ranim Elborai

Benjamin Franklin once wrote “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I would like to venture that he missed out one other inevitability of the human experience: the so-called constructive criticism well-meaning mothers often mete out to their daughters.

images-2“Talk to the hand, Mom!”

You’ve guessed correctly; my mother is here on a short visit and she’s come along with plenty of commentary and suggestions for improvement. Not that I mind massively — moms will be moms, and recognising that she is an oft-perceptive woman with a vault of life experience to call on, I’ve learned not to dismiss my mother’s various critiques out of hand.

I shan’t dwell on the many failings she’s managed to identify on my behalf. Instead, I’ll divulge a nugget of wardrobe wisdom dispensed by the good woman to my sister.

Get a briefcase.

Yes, I know, you already have a formidable “take me seriously” bag that you wear to the office. In fact you may have several of them. If said bag is large enough, you could shove your laptop in there along with a few documents, a legal pad, possibly a stapler, not to mention your makeup bag, cell phone, oversized wallet and diary.

But as all those items sit comfortably arranged in what can only be now described as your Santa Sack, think of the toll that such a burden takes on your poor shoulder(s). I have firsthand experience, having carried all of that crap and more in one massive, ancient “never full” bag for years. I am now the proud owner of a permanent knot in my left shoulder.

skeletonbagApparently years of heavy purse carrying can do this to your spinal alignment.

Only recently did I see the light and decide to switch to a more sensible backpack. Being all denim it’s pretty cute, but it is by no means professional.

If you work in a more fashion forward field and you like the finer things in life, you could go the designer backpack route. MCM has been doing it for years and now other high-end fashion houses have been desperate to climb onto the bandwagon to relaunch the trend, and I wholeheartedly approve. Except the most desirable of these backpacks, say those by The Row, Proenza Schouler and Philip Lim, are far too small to hold very much of your junk, let alone fit your stupid work laptop.

So a briefcase for the more practical woman.

Now, now, I know, the image you may have in your mind is a patently unsexy, boxy old thing, really the province of the old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud professional, the world-weary business traveller, or the village doctor.

Or like say, your dad.

imagesA very distinguished briefcase that’s seen plenty of use. But far too clunky to be considered stylish anymore.

But fret not! We live in an era of serious design innovation and plenty of options, so you don’t have to lug around a bulky battered case that could pass as prop off the set of Death of a Salesman.

Be warned, however, the best briefcases are invariably in the men’s department.

Tuscany_Womens_Briefcase_2Frank Clegg Tuscany Briefcase, $ 850


Mulberry’s Ted Briefcase is for men, but can easily bat for both teams, $ 728

How does this have anything to do with my mother?

My sister had been eyeing a “take me seriously” bag of her very own these past few months. After much deliberation, she finally listened to her heart (for women can be quite romantic when it comes to handbags) and brought it home.

We were extremely pleased for her, for it surely would encourage everyone in my sister’s vicinity to take her very seriously indeed.

The next day, outfitted rather nicely for work, with her beautiful TMS bag in hand, my sister looked every inch the competent and bright attorney we all know she is.

normal_boho-briefcase-metallic-collectionFrom Bohemia’s Boho Briefcase Metallic Collection, a steal at £ 115.

That is until she tucked her laptop and a few documents into a battered old canvas tote bag.

The TMSB, being rather rigidly structured and far too beautiful to stretch out and spoil, could not be made to accommodate her rather large and heavy work computer. A canvas tote would do the trick, no?

My mother was quite taken aback. My sister had shattered the illusion of assured professionalism by tucking the tools of her trade into a cheesecloth. And while my mother conceded that a tote bag may be well and good for carrying one’s groceries, running errands, and going to the gym on a lazy day, it just wasn’t the most dignified looking thing around, was it?


Bottega Veneta Intrecciato VN Briefcase in Walnut Beige, £ 1,565. Too expensive for me, but heavenly if you can afford it. Also for men, but who gives a shit, it’s gorgeous.

e1c04773-bedc-4696-9bda-fda1b478f28a_seven_hundredTod’s Double Stripe Briefcase, as featured on the FT’s How To Spend It, £ 495. Again it is intended for men, but I’m of the opinion that it can easily be swung around by a woman just as well.

Being a proactive woman, my mother immediately remedied that oversight by gifting my sister with a most sensible and handsome briefcase that very evening. True, we did happen to find it in the men’s section, but she and I agreed it would suit the well-dressed professional woman very well.