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Real Men Carry Totes?

Vivia Chen

May 10, 2011

CoachBag Recently The Wall Street Journal posed this urgent question: What should a man carry to work? If you carry a briefcase or bag that looks "old and worn out," said Greg Unis, a vice president at Coach, to the WSJ, "that sends a message that you're not so put together and that you don't pay attention to detail."

Among the lawyer set, any suggestion of a lack of attention to detail is a career killer.

So how can men convey that look of order and control by what they carry? Unis offered some practical tips: Men should sport something that's "large, deep, and sturdy enough to carry a laptop and files." What you must avoid, he told the WSJ, is "walking into a meeting and rifling through your bag to pull out stuff, only to find that your pen has exploded in the bottom of the bag and important documents are crumpled at the edges."

But what Unis recommended to the WSJ for the male professional made me almost cry out loud: "Stop, don't do it!" Unis proposed carrying either a nice leather tote (which essentially looks like a trim, vertical shopping bag) or a messenger-style bag.

Male lawyers toting a tote or messenger bag? Seriously? My gut reaction is that a tote is just too effeminate for a tradition-bound, macho profession like law--regardless of your sexual orientation. As for the messenger bag, it's a bit too boyish and jaunty. And wouldn't those straps mess up that nicely pressed Brooks Brothers suit and that expensive Zegna tie?

Which brings up whether male lawyers can afford to be trendy in the work bag department. The answer is basically no, says Stephen Lucin, a media consultant who also advises on men's fashion: "Tote bags, shoulder bags, or even gym bags are very informal and do not add to the sophisticated nature of the legal sector. Backpacks are a huge NO, and that's all there is to say about them."

Frankly, some of the big rainmakers I've met sport some unattractive carriers. Arguably, the real power look for a male lawyer is the banged-up, schlumpy briefcase where the leather on the edges is wearing as thin as the hair on the partner's head. It conveys the idea that he's so focused on the client that he really doesn't give a hoot what he looks like. Some clients find that reassuring.

But the trend might be to carry nothing at all. If you're tech-savvy and truly confident, you shouldn't need a crutch like a briefcase, tote, backpack, or whatever. "I think flash drives and remote work setups have somewhat obliterated the need for the typical everyday briefcase," says Corporette founder Kat Griffin. 

Readers, what are the men carrying at your firm? Would you carry a tote or backpack to a meeting?

Photo: Courtesy of Coach


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very good post, I agree that using a men's leather briefcase that is worn out will harm your public image among the people.So the best thing to use a classical leather briefcase that suitable for carrying your laptop and important office documents.

Carried a bag, akin to the one seen above, since prior to law school, when I was a paralegal in Manhattan.

That said, the strap's never used, unless I'm on a train. In that environment, it doesn't matter if it's a briefcase, or a trashbag.

Notwithstanding the above, the strap's NEVER seen when the bag (which houses a laptop, and ANYTHING else I'll need) is taken to court, or a conference.. anywhere there's someone passing a judgment on appearance.

And, by-the-by, thanks Vivia--a male.esque piece (albeit about accessories, and slightly effeminate) is a refreshing change of pace from the usual testicle-bashing prose that I read on this blog... or at least start to read.

Keep it up!

Real lawyers (men and women) use rolling briefcases.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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