Home > Contemplations > Is The Classic Briefcase Dead?

Is The Classic Briefcase Dead?


My mom is cleaning out her house before she moves and she found an old, but unused, briefcase my dad got for speaking at a conference a bunch of years ago. She asked me if I want it and though the thing is clearly beautiful I am at an absolute loss as to what to do with it. Why? Well think about…what use does someone have for a briefcase like that today? Take a look at the inside of it (right) do you see a place for me to put my laptop? Not to mention that it is actually heavy in of itself – as hand luggage goes anyway – so if I popped a laptop in there it would become a much heavier thing to hold with my hand when I walked around. This is, of course, as opposed to carrying a messenger bag or even a more modern briefcase or attaché case which has a shoulder strap.

“OK fine Dan,” you say, “but you have a BlackBerry PlayBook now…use that! There’s plenty of room in the briefcase for that!” This is true, there is plenty of room for my PlayBook in there to fit comfortably and be carried along all day every day along with a bunch of papers, pens, my PlayBook charger and some other things I’d need throughout the day. However, even if I set aside the fact that quite frankly there does not yet exist the app support for the PlayBook to make it truly something I can use to replace my laptop in a lot of situations for basic computing there still is one huge problem – the lack of shoulder strap. Sure, this briefcase has an absolutely gorgeous leather handle – which I have a picture of to the left and above. And sure, I would assume that handle could probably even support the weight of a laptop with cables in there and me carrying it every day – it looks darn sturdy. But, and this is a big but, I would still actually have to use a hand to carry it, I couldn’t sling it over my shoulder and therein lies a huge problem. Sure, if I am just walking around an office building during the day, from one office to another, I can put a bunch of stuff in there and be golden. However, in this day and age we all have mp3 players and cell phones and other things in our hands which we need to be able to access with our hands. God only gave us two hands so why would I want to constantly monopolize one of those precious hands with something that I should be able to carry on my shoulder? If I am walking into the subway station, or a store, or even going to my car and I have my phone to my ear in one hand that other hand is going to be needed to teach into my pocket and get out a bus pass/token, or a wallet, or a set of keys. I don’t want to have to put down my beautiful briefcase (especially in the snow or rain if/when the weather isn’t nice – a real concern in Toronto) so as to free up a hand. The same goes with walking down the street with a drink and I get a text message or an email, want to change the song on my media player, send out/reply to a tweet, or even push the crosswalk button. Those just don’t work with a briefcase. Come to think about it how did businessmen, doctors, and lawyers back in the day ever walk with their briefcase while eating a bag of chips or pretzels? I don’t understand how the mechanics of that worked.

Now try thinking about it, how often do you see someone these days walking around with a briefcase which lacks a shoulder strap? Are they over the age of 40? How many people under 40? (Yes, I am aware, even saying an age as young as 40 is a stretch but that generation is probably the most borderline one.) I honestly cannot think of one person I know who is under the age of 40 who carries a briefcase on a regular basis which can only be carried by a handle and lacks a shoulder strap. Technology is really beginning to affect fashion – from a practical perspective. Sure, we have all seen the advent of pockets inside jackets, sport coats, and blazers to accommodate our modern devices – although why you can’t just use the standard breast pocket for your cell phone is quite beyond me. This, however, is the first time I have come to realize that the very look of our society is being affected by our technological advancements.

Maybe someday we will all have Eye-phones akin to that episode of Futurama where they make fun of Apple and the whole team goes out and buys the new eyePhone 4 by Mom…although hopefully the real life version won’t require being installed as painfully. When the wearable computer or something like the comical Futurama version happens (and I don’t doubt there is someone trying to work on that kind of augmented reality eye implants right now – I even have a friend who has stated time and time again he’d be a willing guinea pig to try out such technology) then maybe the should-strapless briefcase might make a comeback. Until then, I don’t expect to be seeing a lot of them carried around on our streets in the near future.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Do you work and live in the downtown core of a major city and think I am completely wrong? Or have you noticed the same thing I have? Let me know in the comments below.

Oh and if you want the clip where I got that still of the eyePhone installation here it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaHUpWuqNHY

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  1. Danah Ashcroft
    May 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I would love to have a briefcase myself.

    But your points are all valid. I just like luggage pieces and retro items.

    • May 27, 2011 at 2:54 am

      That’s part of the problem for me. I WANT to find a way to use it but I just can’t justify monopolizing a hand for it. Like tonight when it was raining. If I were to have had a briefcase I’d have both hands automatically full (carrying an umbrella) and then what happens when your phone rings?

  2. August 11, 2011 at 2:26 am

    it could make a come back as a fashion statement for some people. Look at Scott Disick (Kourtney Kadashian’s baby daddy) who tried to make the cane a fashion accessory on the show. I thought it is quite catchy. I think it’ll make a come-back but only as a fashion statement for some.

    • August 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Interesting and very true Tara! Thanks for the thoughts and for weighing in. I very much agree with you it could make a comeback as an accessory at some point as one of those retro things but if it does I can see it being more niche than widespread. But, hey, you never know!

  3. Dave
    February 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for this article- I found it because I, too, was curious about my dad’s old briefcases. I work in biotech, so thought my chances of seeing one “in the wild” were biased, given the history these have with lawyers and financiers. Apparently not!
    I think the same rules you outlined apply to the top coat- I tried on one because I love the idea of it, but…I’m 33. I look like a flasher, not Don Draper.

    • February 12, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      Haha, I think you need the hat for the topcoat to work and make you look Draper-esque

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